Sharks Game Previews
Sharks vs. Blackhawks: Back in the belly of the beast
The final meeting of 2013 between the Sharks and Hawks provides San Jose with an opportunity to thwart Chicago's attempt at making NHL history, ensure the road trip isn't a total disaster and prove they can still outplay elite teams.
Not a whole lot went right for the Sharks in the 2011-12 season but two things went especially wrong: the annual February road trip and their games against elite competition. While they took a step forward towards ensuring the 2013 iteration of the team wouldn't suffer the same afflictions with a 2-1 win in St. Louis on Tuesday, the Sharks still have a ways to go to prove what ailed them a year ago won't recur this season.
Despite beating the Blues, the Sharks are still just 1-3 on the tennis trip. On the whole, they've played four games this season against the Kings, Blues, Blackhawks, Red Wings and Canucks who, along with the Sharks, comprise the group of Western teams who have been top ten league-wide in possession this year. They've won two and lost two but that record alone probably overstates their performance; the two victories came in the most favorable circumstances imaginable as they played a travel-weary Blues team who started a third-string goaltender and beat Vancouver on the season's second weekend with the Canucks reduced by injury to just one forward line of any use. Overall, the Sharks earned just 48.6% of even-strength scoring chances in those four games, not at all a substantial improvement over their chance ratio against the best in the West last season.
As much as the recent losing skid was a byproduct of poor puck luck in close games and a sputtering power play, the Sharks haven't demonstrated an ability to hang with conference heavyweights since the 2010-11 season, which has obviously unsettling implications should they make the playoffs. Tonight, they have an opportunity to prove they still belong in the Cup conversation and that they can outplay the cream of the Western crop. The third and final meeting of the season between San Jose and Chicago is a chance for the Sharks to work towards salvaging a .500 road trip, toss a wet blanket over the Hawks' plans of making NHL history and submit into evidence proof that they can still do more than just feast on lesser lights. Go Sharks.