The last time the Hawks met the Sharks, Jonathan Toews and Joe Thornton squared off. (Charles Rex Arbogast/AP)
By Allan Muir
Sharks at Blackhawks: 7:30 CST, NHL Network (US), CSN Chicago, CSN California
The Blackhawks can lay claim to the best start in NHL history against the Sharks tonight. Their shootout win over Vancouver on Wednesday gave Chicago a point in 16 straight games and a share of the current mark set in 2006-07 by the Anaheim Ducks. They’ll face a feckless San Jose side that finally snapped a seven-game losing streak with a 2-1 win over St. Louis on Tuesday. After going unbeaten in their first seven games, the Sharks have seen their offense go cold, but they’re coming off two days of practice time that allowed them to work on the power play and at generating chances five-on-five.
This will be the third meeting between these two teams in 18 days, so familiarity may breed contempt. It’ll be worth watching to see if any hostilities carry over from their last get-together, when captains Jonathan Toews and Joe Thornton dropped the gloves.
Keys to the game
• Blackhawks: Get a lead and stomp down hard on the gas pedal. They allowed the Canucks to dictate the pace early on Wednesday, then coasted through the third period after a thoroughly dominant second, ultimately coughing up a point with sloppy play and lazy penalties as the game wore down. They can’t afford to let the Sharks circle and wait for them to let up.
• Sharks: Commit to ugly, goalmouth hockey. There’s no offensive flow on this team right now. They’ve scored two goals or less in regulation in nine of their last 10 games and the power play that propelled their hot start has just two goals to show for its last 42 chances. So forget pretty and fight off the instinct to make that one last pass. Get as many pucks on net as possible and follow them to the crease with grim purpose.
• Probable starting goalies: Ray Emery (6-0-0, 2.27 GAA, .925 save pct.) vs. Antti Niemi (7-2-3, 1.86, .933)