RECORDS: Sharks 19-11-1 Hawks 21-8-4
PUCK DROP: 6pm Central
TV: WGN, NHL-N outside the 606
ADJUSTED TEAM CORSI %: Sharks – 52.5 (8th) Hawks – 50.1 (15th)
ADJUSTED TEAM xGF%: Sharks – 53.2 (6th) Hawks – 47.5 (20th)
POWER PLAY: Sharks – 17.8 (14th) Hawks – 18.4 (14th)
PENALTY KILL: Sharks – 81.7 (17th) Hawks – 73.3 (30th)
TRENDS: Joel Ward was a healthy scratch in Montreal… Brent Burns leads the league in shots
After quashing whatever was being vocalized from St. Louis about being a competitor in the West, the Hawks will welcome the San Jose Sharks tonight, and these two look for all the world to be headed toward each other again in deep spring. So while there’s no such thing as statement games, if you want to toss around the phrase “playoff preview” it’s actually somewhat apt.
The Sharks are really starting to round into form, having won the last four including fustigating the Canadiens in Montreal on Friday. It took a little while for everything to normalize for the Sharks, who were victimized early in the year by some comedically unlucky shooting numbers. Those are starting to rise, and hence the Sharks have risen to the top of the Lost and Found that is the Pacific Division.
There’s still some rough edges to be smoothed. Joe Thornton only has two goals, but has dominated possession as he has for a decade and a half now. The bottom six has been a tad on the wonky side, with Joel Ward being so woeful this season he got himself healthy scratched last game. Joonas Donskoi did the same thing earlier in the week, but responded with two assists against the Habs.
Still, these are trifling matters when compared to other teams. Looking around, the Sharks have as good of forward depth as you’ll find in the West, they definitely have the best defense 1-6 in the West, and Martin Jones is establishing himself as an upper echelon goalie. The only fear with the Sharks is the age of Thornton, Marleau, Pavelski, Martin having played until June last year and then gearing up to do so again this year. If they can last until the spring, there’s no reason the Sharks can’t be where they were.
While the forward scoring numbers have been lower than normal, Brent Burns appears intent on making it up himself. He’s leading the league in shots, which is hard to fathom from a d-man. And it’s not just bombs from the point unleashed wildly. Burns gets to every position on the ice, scoring from in close and from the points equally. He’s a truly unique player, who is not nearly as helpless defensively as he’s made out to be. He’s basically become Karlsson West, and is the genesis of a lot of what makes the Sharks go.
For the Hawks, they aren’t getting much of a break from the schedule but it’s a turnaround on getting to play three straight teams who had played the night before as they did earlier in the calendar. Darling has looked vulnerable the past two games, though that’ll happen as he’s playing the most he really ever has. He’ll have to be better tonight, because the Sharks aren’t going to be as forgiving as the Isles and Blues were. Wouldn’t expect too many other lineup changes. Maybe Motte The Hoople draws back in for TOOTBLAN, and one would imagine Anisimov doesn’t make the bell after missing almost all of last night’s game. Should see Hinostroza slot up with Motte moving to the middle on the 4th line, or Rasmussen could center the bottom unit.
Should be interesting to see how Q wants to handle Thornton’s line tonight. Normally we’d see a fighting fire with fire tactic with Toews drawing the assignment. But Q has been leaning away from that this season, with Kruger doing most of the work. Also, Keith and Hjalmarsson will be out there for every shift, but if any line is going to make Keith pay for his drop in level this season, it’s this one.
Should be a good one. We might not learn much about the Hawks, but we might.