Blackhawks vs. Sharks Preview 11/23/2011

After getting outscored a combined 14-3 the past two games, the Blackhawks kick off the second half of their annual circus trip tonight in San Jose. Much controversy surrounded the team’s trip to Las Vegas following the embarassing 9-2 loss to Edmonton. Personally I think the trip will be more beneficial for the team than harmful. It seems over the past few years when the team has gotten in a funk and has had to play multiple games in a few days, it’s difficult for them to break out of it and get a win. The time off should allow the boys to refocus and come out strong tonight.

Former Hawks netminder Antii Niemi has played his former club well since signing with the Sharks last year and has maintained his top tier play since guiding the Blackhawks to the Stanley Cup in 2010. San Jose as usual is among one of the top teams in the Western Conference and is two points behind the Hawks with 25. The Sharks are currently on a roll winning their past 11 of 14 games and are sitting atop the Pacific Division.

The matchups between these clubs have been close ever since the Hawks re-emerged as an elite hockey team in the 2008-2009 season. One bright spot of the past few days has seen defenseman Brent Seabrook and winger Michael Frolik return to practice with the team. Since Seabrook went down against Edmonton on November 13th, the Hawks defense has struggled. Duncan Keith was a combined -8 against Calgary and Edmonton after playing perhaps his best game of the year in the 5-1 victory over Vancouver. With some time off to get some rest and the possible return of Seabrook, look for Keith to have a strong game.

Players to Watch: Jonathan Toews (10 points in 6 games) Duncan Keith (-8 last two games, looking to bounce back)

Injury Report: Although both Seabrook and Frolik were back practicing with the team, they are both listed as questionable for tonight. Sharks back up goaltender Antero Niittymaki is out recovering from hip surgery.

Prediction: Whenever the Blackhawks get in a funk, the most infuriating part is that they collapse against teams they should beat. In the past few seasons, the Hawks always seem to rise to the occasion against elite teams making this matchup with San Jose almost ideal for them. Bound to face a raucous crowd at the Shark Tank, look for the Hawks to play with a jump in their step after getting pounded in Western Canada. This is going to be a close game as it has always been with these two clubs. With the extra days off and with something to prove look for the Hawks to take the first matchup of the season between these two clubs.

Blackhawks 4 – Sharks 2