Game Time: 9:30 PM CT
TV/Radio: CSN / WGN Radio
The Enemy: Couch Tarts
Last time both teams met, Niemi backstopped the Sharks to a 5-2 whipping of the Blackhawks. The men of four feathers were in the middle of the circus trip, and that game had been sandwiched between hard-fought wins, but it was still a terrible loss for the then-listless Hawks. Tonight marks the second Hawks/Sharks match at the Tank, a less-than-epic event this season while both teams are recovering from personnel turnover than the Best-of-the-West matchup it had been last season.
Nemo and the Sharks
Tied with five other teams in the Western Conference with 32 points on the season, but ranked 11th due to having played one more game and a smaller goal differential, the Sharks aren’t exactly where we expected them to be at the start of the season. Well. I take that back-- we did expect the Sharks to be less than dominant, most everyone else, it seemed, thought they’d continue to dominate despite trying to fill in the hole left by Rob Blake with another goalie.
The Sharks are coming off a so-so five-game road trip, the last of which ended with a 6-3 loss against Miller and the Sabres, so they’ll be looking to bounce back from that. Some are quick to point out that the Sharks will be at a disadvantage considering the first home game back after a long road trip is usually brutal for a team, but those aren’t hard and fast rules and the minute you take something for granted is when it bites you in the ass.
The Sharks are scoring slightly more (3.00 per game) than they are allowing (2.96), and their PP, converting at a 22.7% rate (5th in the league), is stellar as their 83% PK (14th in the league) is. They’ll potentially start Antti Niemi in goal for the sentiment alone, although personally Anttero Niittymaki’s numbers may be better at this point. Besides, Niemi started against Buffalo and Niittymaki may be given tonight’s start as a result.
The Riders of the Hot Hand
The Sharks’ record is actually better than ours, as we have only two points more than they do but with two more games played than them, but at this point in time the Hawks must cling to their place in the conference as hard as they can. Two points will go a long way, especially against Western Conference rivals.
Doing so will be hard what with all the injuries plaguing the team right now, but as some have pointed out, maybe it will lead to a simplification of the game for the Hawks. When you’re in need of star power, sometimes you end up scoring by committee. That’s kind of what’s happening right now with the absence of Kane and Hossa in the lineup. Of course we were able to see the re-emergence of Captain Serious, but at the same time, our third line, their identity and job description clearer now than it’s ever been all season, chipped in for 2g, 3a, 5pts and a +7 rating last game too. The team’s getting where we wanted them to be all season long, but they’ll have to stay consistent here, buckling down on defense when it matters most.
Morin’s been recalled from Rockford, the only call-up from the farm team, so we can expect possibly Hendry and Scott in as the fourth line. (Sorry, Dowell.) Morin will likely skate alongside Sharp and Kopecky, with Skille up with Stalberg and Toews. Things could definitely look better heading into tonight, but we’ll make do with what we’ve got and hopefully Sharp stops missing Kane long enough to stop floating around like he did for the Stars game. It’s his production that we can’t afford to miss now.
Crawford gets the start tonight.
Points of Contention
- Line matching - Our checking line-- actually, Bolland-- seems to flourish most when given a clear assignment. In our 7-1 win over Vancouver, Bolland was on the ice every time Henrik Sedin was. I’m expecting Q to do the same with Bolland and Thornton, but the Sharks aren’t limited to one line of scoring threats. They’ve still got Pavelski and Couture, and we’ll need to watch out for them.
- Special Teams - Our numbers are looking very ill, though not for lack of trying. We can’t afford to have the PK fail on us tonight. While the power play only converted on 1 of 7 chances against the Stars (and it happened to be an empty netter), generally it’s been trending in the right direction. Hopefully it continues to do so.
- Consistent Defense - The Hawks got up to a 4-1 lead last time and within the span of 1:05 minutes, it turned into a nail-biting 4-3 game. Defensive lapses can’t happen, complacency is not an option. The Hawks managed to play solid defense the rest of the way, but had they played that way as soon as they got that 3-goal lead then, you know, we’d all be a little bit healthier.