Do You Know the Way to San Jose: Blackhawks at Sharks preview
Who will get their first win of the season: the Blackhawks or Sharks?
The Chicago Blackhawks and San Jose Sharks face off Saturday night as both sides chase their first victory of the season.
San Jose has been dealt nothing but losses this season: they opened the season with 4-1 and 2-1 defeats against the Nashville Predators in Europe and fell 2-1 to the Carolina Hurricanes Friday night. The games have been competitive, but the Sharks just haven’t been able to get one in the win column.
They’ll be looking to correct that on what will be Doug Wilson Appreciation Recognition Night at SAP Arena.
There are some flaws the Blackhawks can exploit to prevent this, though. The Sharks have allowed more than 30 shots against in two of their three games and are having major offensive woes, producing only four goals in that span.
Last year, the Sharks were one of the better shot suppression teams, allowing only 29.2 shots against per game, which was good for 7th best in the league. But their goal production was putrid a season ago as well, having the second-lowest goals-per-game rate.
The Sharks have also gotten shaky performances from their goalies, especially Kaapo Kahkonen, who allowed three goals against on just 18 shots in the second Nashville game. He’s the likely starter Saturday night, so here’s hoping that the Blackhawks can take advantage.
Young guns Luke Kunin and Mario Ferraro lead the Sharks currently with two points while several other players have at least one point. It probably won’t take long for the likes of Logan Couture and Tomas Hertl to take off offensively, either.
The Blackhawks have had an expectedly rough start to the season so far, as they lost two straight to the Colorado Avalanche and Vegas Golden Knights earlier this week.
The reigning Stanley Cup Champs stomped the Blackhawks 5-2, and Chicago lost 1-0 to the Golden Knights. It was obvious both opposing teams are just objectively better than the Blackhawks, but the second game at least felt closer — and not just because of the score.
The Blackhawks roster may lack high-quality skill, but the effort was impressive. And yes, that sounds like a moral victory, but we’re trying to keep things somewhat positive around here.
Speaking of positives, Jonathan Toews has looked pretty excellent in both games so far, which is something Blackhawks fans have to be excited about. This season may be a throw-away, but it’s great to see the captain finish what could be his final season in Chicago on a strong note.
Philipp Kurashev — one of only a few players on the roster who might be in the Blackhawks’ long-term plans — has shown a spark that was missing from his disappointing season last year. And Max Domi scored his first goal in a Blackhawks jersey, something I guess we’re all forced to root for.
Goaltending has also been surprisingly decent. Petr Mrázek did let in five goals, but Colorado could have probably could have doubled that if not for the Czech netminder. Then Alex Stalock stopped 36 of 37 shots against in Vegas, impressive under any circumstances.
The Blackhawks do have some major areas of concern both offensively and defensively. They haven’t been able to score a 5-on-5 goal yet, but offense was always going to be a struggle with the roster. The shots against — 35 and 37, respectively — isn’t a good start for a team that needs to shot suppress to make up for the lack of goal production if they have a hope of winning.
Winning might not be the ultimate goal for the season, but no one wants to watch boring losses. The penalty kill has also been a mixed bag: the Blackhawks went only 2-for-6 on the PK against the Avalanche but followed that up by going 3-for-3 against the Knights.
The focus of this season from an organizational standpoint might not be winning, but the Blackhawks need to get some victories, at least from a morale standpoint, and the Sharks are going to be one of the best opportunities for that.
Tale of the tape (statistics from last season)
Blackhawks — Statistic — Sharks
45.98% (30th) — Corsi For — 45.59% (31st)
45.48% (30th) — Expected goals for — 47.45% (21st)
2.60 (29th) — Goals per game — 2.57 (30th)
3.52 (26th) — Goals against per game — 3.18 (21st)
49.6% (16th) — Faceoffs — 49.6% (17th)
19.2% (21st) — Power play — 19.0% (22nd)
76.2% (24th) — Penalty kill — 85.2% (2nd)
Projected lineups (card subject to change)
Athanasiou — Domi — Kane
T. Johnson — Toews — Raddysh
Kurashev — Lafferty — Entwistle
Blackwell — Khaira — Dickinson
J. Johnson — S. Jones
Tinordi — Murphy
Roos — C. Jones
Meier — Hertl — Kunin
Lorentz — Couture — Labanc
Lindblom — Bonino — Nieto
Gregor — Sturm — Svechnikov
Megna — Karlsson
Ferraro — Benning
Vlasic — Simek
How to watch
When: 9 p.m. CT
Where: SAP Center, San Jose
TV: NBC Sports Chicago
Radio: WGN 720
Live stream: Sling TV