Game time: 7:00 PM
TV/Radio: Versus (domestic), TSN2 (up north), WGN-AM 720
Jaws Theme Swimming: Fear The Fin
What a difference a winless week makes. With the Hawks on the verge of separating themselves and gaining some traction in the 4th seed after 8 straight wins, they now find themselves in 6th or 7th, depending on whose standings you read after going 0-1-2 on the road against the NASCAR division last week. Having gained only 2 points out of 6, that now sets up yet another crucial week against Western Conference foes with whom the Hawks are stuffed into the the standings with, starting tonight with the San Jose Sharks. In the season series, the Hawks are 0-3 against San Jose, and those all came before the Sharks became shit-hot and jumped into the lead of the Pacific Division. They've done so on the back of stellar netminding from cap casualty and former savior Antti Niemi, who has brought his numbers down from their revolting early season marks to 2.39 GAA and a .918 save percentage, and will be starting his 19th game in a row. During that time he and the Sharks have gone 13-3-2, but recently they've only managed one win in their last four with two shootout losses. Joe Thornton and Dany Heately, while well off their usual pace, still lead the Sharks in scoring with 56 points a piece, but it's the emergence of Logan Couture that, along with Niemi, has been a catalyst for their success. Couture's 25 goals are second best on the team behind only Patrick Marleau, however, his +/- of 14 contrasted against Marleau's -9 shows what chum Couture has been making of lower pairings in his first official campaign. Oh, and if that wasn't enough, Joe Pavelski still has 46 points in an off year for him. San Jose's defense remains largely similar to what we've seen from them from earlier in the year, though the acquisition of Ian White does bring another puck-moving element to the blue line in addition to Dan Boyle. San Jose also puts a league-leading 34 shots on net per game, and only allow 28 against, which shows just how much they dictate the play.
As for the Men of Four Feathers, while tonight isn't a "must win", it's about the closest thing to it possible. With no morning skate today, there's been no word disseminated yet regarding the statuses of Brian Campbell, Dave Bolland, and Corey Crawford, but one would have to assume the two former are out, and Crawford will once again be getting the nod. This means we'll likely be seeing John Scott on the blue line, cringe inducing as it sounds against this San Jose lot. Furthermore, Bolland's absence makes it almost necessary to match the Toews, Kane, and Sharp against the Thornton line, leaving Michael Frolik, Jake Dowell, or Ryan Johnson exposed to the holy terror of Logan Couture. Quite simply, the Hawks are up against it tonight, and are going to need elevated performances from all involved, starting with the Captain on down. While it might not be fair to ask more of Toews, if all the Hart talk is to be believed, he'll need to provide it. Having Patrick Sharp shake his case of the yips while firing on net would be a tremendous help as well. Had the Hawks not burned through their margin of error in the Dirty South last week, this situation would not be as grave, but the fact of the matter is that a performance akin to that of Scum's visit to the UC in December is imperative. To quote the Old Testament, "The quest stands upon the edge of a knife. Stray but a little, and it will fail, to the ruin of all. Yet hope remains while the company is true." Let's go Hawks.