What a difference a week can make. Last Tuesday in this same space, much was made of the Hawks visiting the Sharks and it being a milepost for both teams 10 games into a 48 game campaign. After the Hawks emerged on top on what was a raucous affair, the clubs have very divergent trajectories.
Since falling to the Hawks, the Sharks have taken only two of a possible six points, both of which coming via overtime charity. They’ve now lost six in a row overall (3 regulation 3 OT), the most embarrassing of which was a 6-2 torquing courtesy of the Columbus Blue Jackets. Yes, the Columbus Blue Jackets.
For the stat heads who love the phrase “regression to the mean”, this Sharks club of late has been a dream come true. After a torrid start, Patrick Marleau has come back to earth, with but one goal to his name in the blowout loss to Columbus since the streak started. It’s fair to say that there’s a correlation here, as the Sharks have only scored 3 goals at one point in the last six, and Hawk fans will recall all three of those coming in the first 10 minutes of the first period against Corey Crawford. However Marleau is not the only one culpable in the offensive drought, no matter how much the media both local and national likes to pile onto him. Joe Thornton has but one assist in that same stretch, and that too came after the game in Columbus was already out of control. As a matter of fact, the Sharks have been held goalless in two of their last three games, so it appears the entire team is scuffling. Even the return of woodland creature Brent Burns and his tremendous shot to the power play hasn’t helped the Sharks generate any offense.
None of the blame however can be thrust upon old friend Antii Niemi, as the 6 goal drubbing came courtesy of backup Thomas Greiss. Niemi has actually held the opposition goalless in the last 120 mintes of regulation time he’s played, and has but an overtime and a shootout loss to show for it. In his first couple outings against his former mates over the last 2+ seasons, Niemi did everything he could to make Stan Bowman foolish, often robbing the Hawks blind. In the last couple however, he’s been far more generous. Given the way he’s seeing the puck recently, the safer bet is on the former tonight.
As for our Men of Four Feathers, the big news out of practice today is that Corey Crawford is now day-to-day with an upper body injury, though it’s pretty obvious that it’s a concussion as a result of Bobby Ryan colliding with him during the third period Tuesday. Crow practiced yesterday, but as is the case with these things, the symptoms seemingly creeped up on him, and Ray Emery will get the start as a result. After a wonky outing in Phoenix during opening weekend, Emery has stabilized his game keeping the Hawks in both of his other starts, and of course stealing two points in Calgary on his own. This will be Razor’s first start at home, where he fared far better last season. But it’s a new year, and the Hawks’ D will need to continue to keep chances to the outside and clear rebounds to keep Emery’s bionic hip from getting exposed.
In front of Emery, the lineup appears to be remaining the same at press time, though there’s always the possibility of either one or both the Bollig/Mayers and Rozsival/Brookbank platoons flip flopping. The Sharks as a team are excellent at the dot, so look for any line that doesn’t have Jonathan Toews centering it to be chasing down a lot of pucks as plays begin (we’re looking at you, Bolland line).
At the morning skate the Sharks were already kvetching about the UC’s ice conditions, and regardless of whether that’s the mark of a frustrated team in the midst of a spiral, those conditions have always been suspect. And while it’s infuriating that one of the league’s preeminent free-wheeling teams can’t seem to create conditions that would facilitate that, the fact of the matter is that both teams have to play on the surface, and both try to play a similar game, so there shouldn’t be a real clear advantage for one squad tonight. If the Hawks have to result to a chip and chase game, the speed of the forwards should still expose what’s long been a plodding Sharks blue line, and making Nemo have to play the puck is always a smart decision. But once again, even though the Sharks are struggling, they do have the firepower to breakout at any given moment if taken lightly. To reiterate what was said on Tuesday- the successful road trip only matters if the two week homestand is capitalized on, point streak or no. Let’s go Hawks.