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Jonathan Toews in action against the San Jose Sharks at HP Pavilion in San Jose on November 23, 2011.
The Blackhawks take on the San Jose Sharks tonight, and rarely are contests between these two dull. Tonight promises to deliver all the excitement you've come to expect.
The Hawks and Sharks have been sharing the dining room table at the penthouse of the Western Conference for a few years now, and games between them are always a demonstration of why. Frantic, open, passionate -- everything you'd want from two teams who are entrenched in an argument over who will be Men of The West when the Final is decided. Both teams are deep in scoring, and love to get up and down the ice. The last time these two met was a 1-0 score to the Sharks, but that's hardly the norm.
For the Hawks, Ray Emery will get his second consecutive start in net. He was more than OK in Long Island, but the real factor here is that the defense around him was better. Still, it took until OT, and two perfect shots to beat Emery. Aside from that, the Hawks kept lanes closed and the zone bereft of open space. They'll need to up that effort tonight with a far more imposing attack force against the invaders tonight.
The Hawks have no other injury concerns or lineup changes, so what you saw on Long Island is probably what you'll get tonight.
As for the Sharks, they were in St. Louis last night, engaged in a form of alligator wrestling that wasn't worth watching. They lost 1-0 to the Blues, where both teams failed to combine for 45 shots. At times, it looked like a book club.
The Sharks have scuffled a bit since the Hawks last saw them, going 3-4. They've had problems scoring, as they can be restricted too easily to the perimeter of the attacking zone. They haven't fought hard enough to get to the crease or to get in on a forecheck, and what they're doing is basically relying on scoring in transition. If the Hawks can deny their own blue line effectively, and make the Sharks play an ugly game, things will swing in the Hawks' favor.
San Jose's special teams are a mess. Their penalty kill is even worse than the Hawks', which is a real accomplishment. An aging defense at part, an irresponsible one at the other is the reason why. Their power play is 1 for its last 23, with the same problems as their even-strength scoring. The Hawks have to win this battle tonight, because they're being begged to.
Antti Niemi will most likely get his second start in as many nights, not being too tested by the 20 shots the Blues threw at him. He stoned the Hawks last game, but his last visit to the United Center saw him yanked barely halfway through the second period as the Hawks rang up five on him.
Always a good test, but with the Sharks struggling to find their game, now's as good of a time as any to see them.