The Chicago Blackhawks' increasingly bizarre season continues Sunday night as the San Jose Sharks visit the United Center. A pair of Western Conference contenders who stumbled during the early part of the season, this game represents an opportunity for both teams to come out and make a statement.
I'm not sure there's much to add to the Blackhawks' issues early this season that hasn't been discussed elsewhere, so at this point the framing of the situation largely remains the same. It's all about shooting percentage, and it's becoming increasingly clear that number will end up defining the team's success this season.
That's because the 'Hawks remain a devastating defensive team -- five terrible minutes vs. the Caps withstanding -- and have more or less thrived in every other aspect of the game. Even if there's some degree of merit to the "boredom" comments we heard from Jonathan Toews after the less to Washington, those moments of lethargy wouldn't be nearly as painful if the team's otherwise dominant play was translating to goals.
So that's pretty much the name of the game at this point, and while it's presumably frustrating to hear -- and some of you probably think its nonsense -- it's incredibly important to stick to the process. The 'Hawks have done things a certain way for a long time, without being reactive, because they recognize that process and patience lead to results. I think that's the mantra we'll be sticking with here until the team rips off a 8-game winning streak.
Opponent Breakdown: San Jose Sharks
The Sharks are currently fifth in the Pacific Division with a 8-5-2 overall record. They've been pretty inconsistent all season, alternating good and bad stretches that have essentially evened out to a .500 record.
San Jose impressively opened the season winning four of its first five games, including a season opening 4-0 shutout of the defending champion Kings. However, things unraveled from there as the team lost four straight, including three against Eastern Conference foes.
That losing streak dropped San Jose near the bottom of the standings, but the team has rebounded to win four of its past six to reassert itself. Now, if the season ended today, the Sharks would make the playoffs, while the 'Hawks would not.
A large part of San Jose's success has been driven by a high-level offense, which currently ranks fifth in the NHL in goals per game and fourth in power play percentage. The Sharks are middle of the pack defensively, but with the likes of Logan Couture, Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton still around, few teams are as dangerous in the opponent's zone.
There's one reason the 'Hawks might be hopeful, though: at even strength, the Sharks are just 25th in the NHL in offensive zone starts, while Chicago is 1st. I know this gets back to the whole possession thing and none of it matters if the shooting percentage isn't there, but the Blackhawks should have opportunities in their opponent's end to set up chances.
Still no Patrick Sharp or Daniel Carcillo for the Blackhawks.
The Sharks have been without Mike Brown and Raffi Torres for the majority of the season. Both will miss Sunday night's game as well.
|'HAWKS VS. SHARKS LINEUPS
|ALSO SEE: FEAR THE FIN, SBN'S SHARKS BLOG|
When: 6 p.m. CT
Where: United Center
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(Statistics via NHL.com and Hockey Reference)