Sharks and Blackhawks face off at United Center

On Sunday, the Blackhawks (29-7-8) host one of their conference rivals, the San Jose Sharks (26-9-6), for their second match-up of the season, the first having been a 5-1 home win for the Blackhawks, back in November. These two teams are at in the top 5 in the league right now, the Blackhawks currently being 1st with 66 points in 44 games, and the Sharks being 5th with 58 points in 41 games, and they’re both meeting after a solid win, the Sharks against the Edmonton Oilers and the Blackhawks against the New Jersey Devils.

 

Both teams have been incredibly strong in the first half of the season, posting great numbers backed up with strong goaltending, offense and defense. But as is the case with a number of teams in this stretch, the Sharks are faced with 5 of their top-9 forwards out with injury: Adam Burish, Marty Havlat, Tomas Hertl, Raffi Torres, and Tommy Wingels. They have been forced to call up members of their AHL team, the Worcester Sharks.

 

On the other hand, the Blackhawks have been able to start goaltender Corey Crawford (2.49 GAA, .907 SV%) again on January 2nd after a groin injury that sidelined him for a month, while their lineup has managed to stay healthy up to know; their only member on IR being goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin. With Antti Raanta (2.27 GAA, .911 SV%) between the pipes while both Crawford and Khabibulin were out, the team has managed a strong December (8-3-3), which led to Raanta being named co-rookie of the month for December (alongside rookie goaltender Martin Jones, playing for the Los Angeles Kings).

 

For the Sharks, it is very probable that Antti Niemi (2.39 GAA, .931 SV%), who was in goal for the Blackhawks for their 2010 Cup win, will be starting. It is unsure as of now who will start for the Blackhawks between Crawford and Raanta.

 

Even with a number of players out of their lineup, the Sharks still have a very strong team, with captain Joe Thornton (5G, 41A) leading them on their first line (and leading the league in assists), with Joe Pavelski (17G, 22A), recently named in the team USA Olympics roster, and Brent Burns (13G, 11A). Patrick Marleau (18G, 20A) and Logan Couture (13G, 20A) are also fit and putting up points for the team. Defense is not inactive either; Dan Boyle and Marc-Edouard Vlasic  are having very strong seasons.

 

The Blackhawks continue to be one of the best, if not the best, offensive teams in the league this season. While the penalty kill still continues to struggle (28th in the league), the power play is going strong (3rd in the league). The team points’ leader, Patrick Kane (23G, 31A), was named 1st star of the month for both November and December, and was, like Pavelski, named in the roster for team USA. Patrick Sharp (25G, 20A) has been on an incredible scoring streak, with two hat-tricks in 5 games. Duncan Keith (3G, 39A) is 2nd in the league in assists, joined with Sidney Crosby, while Sharp, along with Brent Seabrook (5G, 26A), Marian Hossa (15G, 20A), and captain Jonathan Toews (15G, 28A), are all 2nd in the league in +/-.

 

Two very strong teams will battle it out on Sunday, but the Blackhawks might have a slight advantage in the fact that it will be the second game of a back-to-game for the Sharks. It’s going to be one not to miss.

 

If you are going to the game, do not miss the Bickell Foundation 2014 calendars being sold at the United Center. The foundation is dedicated to raise awareness for Pitbulls and working with them to assist abused children. The calendar features a number of Blackhawks players, including Jonathan Toews, Andrew Shaw, and Bryan Bickell himself.

 

Game time is 8.00 p.m. ET and can be seen live on NBCSN and WGN.

 

Follow our Blackhawks writers at @TCLBlackhawks on Twitter, and you can find me at @hockeyfied.