Game Time: 9:30PM Central
TV/Radio: CSN, NHL Net (Canada), WGN AM 720
Cage In The Water: Fear The Fin
While ten games into a season might be too soon for a “measuring stick” game in any other year, for this shortened campaign, that’s equal to over 20% of the entire season. Given that circumstance, it’s entirely appropriate for these two teams to use tonight to judge where they’re going for the rest of the year. Tonight features a matchup of the two best teams in the conference, with a grand total of 5 points lost between the two out of a possible combined 36, and a single solitary regulation loss.
That regulation loss currently belongs to the San Jose Sharks, whose impressive points streak to begin the season came to an end last night in Anaheim in a battle of backup goalies, as both Antii Niemi and Jonas Hiller sat in favor of Victor Fasth and Thomas Greiss respectively. Obviously that means old friend Nemo will be in the cage (GET IT?) tonight for the Sharks against his former mates, whom he has always played well against, sporting a 2-1-1 record with a .929 save percentage in four meetups last year. Everyone knows the drill with Nemo- he carries his glove hand incredibly low, so look for the Hawks to target that area specifically if given the chance.
The real story for the Sharks has been up front, however. Specifically Patrick Marleau and his ass-on-fire start to the season. Marleau leads the league with 9 goals in 9 games, and both he and linemate Joe Thornton are tied for third in points with 14. The other Joe, Joe Pavelski, and Logan Couture are also north of double digits in points in this young season, so the Sharks are boasting their usual scoring depth. Other old friends Martin Havlat and Adam Burish also find themselves in teal these days, and call it an upset that Havlat has appeared in all 9 games to this point without injuring himself after the lockout layoff.
On the blue line the Sharks added Brad Stuart from Scum in the offseason, who currently leads the Sharks in +/- with a +7, and has added some physicality and stability to the blue line, though hasn’t solved the issue of the Sharks D still being able to be beaten to the outside with speed. That the Sharks are scoring that much and their +/- leader is only at a +7 should indicate that they do a lot of damage on the power play, which they do, leading the league with 13 power play goals to this point, which will put the Hawks high-wire act penalty kill to the test. Quarterbacking that power play as usual will likely be the aging Dan Boyle, who while still fantastic 150 feet from his own net, has problems going the other way. Boyle missed last night’s game against the Ducks with the flu, but figures to be in the lineup tonight. The wet rat looking Brent Burns and his blast of a shot have yet to play this year, so that should give an indication as to just how well the power play unit is buzzing even without that asset.
As for the Men of Four Feathers, they’ll be coming into tonight with two days rest, facing a team who was on the road last night, so a poor start will be inexcusable. They’ll also be getting Dave Bolland back in the lineup, which is a mild relief after missing only one game due to an ankle injury that looked a lot worse at the time than it ended up being. Bolland figures to jump right back into the middle between the Patricks, though look for his usual assignment of irritating the shit out of Joe Thortnon to fall to Jonathan Toews. As was posted yesterday, that line is getting its skull caved in any advanced possession metric available, and maintaining the puck is what Thornton and Marleau do best. Should Q try to trot Bolland out against Jumbo, it could end up being a very, very long night for the Hawks. Should the Toews line have that job, the primary question will be how Brandon Saad will handle his first real two-way assignment. He’s been solid so far, but he’s had favorable zone starts, and not faced a rolling (albeit aging) juggernaut of a line like this. Something to watch for.
It will also be interesting to see how Quenneville deploys his blue line against the Sharks’ top unit. History would tell us that Keith and Seabrook would be saddled with that task as they have been for the past four years, but the fact remains that Oduya and Hjalmarsson have had the better of the play lately, and that’s been rewarded with increased icetime, frequently surpassing that of Marlboro 72. As of print time, there’s no word on whether Michal Rozsival will return to the lineup, so it’s reasonable to assume Sheldon Brookbank will once again be paired with Nick Leddy, though look for Brookbank to be used sparingly. This will all be in front of Corey Crawford, who gets the start after Ray Emery bailed the Hawks’ asses out with 45 saves in Calgary on Saturday.
The last time the Hawks and Sharks played a regular season game of this magnitude, Diamond Dave made his very first appearance down the block at the old address. No such outcome is guaranteed tonight, but the Hawks do sit in an advantageous spot being as well rested as a team can be this year. Both teams face their biggest test thus far in the season, with the importance of special teams looming large over the proceedings. Making those opportunities count will be crucial. Let’s Go Hawks.