Nov. 23, 2011 Game Preview: Chicago Blackhawks vs. San Jose Sharks Presents Classic Speed vs. Size Clash

Tonight at 4:00 PM Pacific Time, the Chicago Blackhawks face off against the San Jose Sharks at the Shark Tank in one of the most anticipated match-ups of the season. The 2010 Chicago Blackhawks super-team swept the Sharks in the 2010 Western Conference Finals, but salary cap constrictions forced their GM Stan Bowman to sell off much of their depth and versatility. Since then the team has not been the same, struggling to even make the Playoffs last season. The Sharks, for their part, contributed to those struggles, regaining the upper hand in the head-to-head match-up by winning three of the four games.

However, the Blackhawks are still possibly the team with the most pure finesse skill in the NHL, and two of those San Jose victories came against Marty Turco, who was among the NHL’s worst goaltenders last season. His performances night in and night out were some of the worst to be seen at the NHL level in years. Turco was clearly past his prime, letting in easy goals left and right and undermining the effort of his teammates in front of him. His save percentage for the season of under .900% and a GAA of 3.02 reflected just this. Marty Turco has had a great career, but he was not as his best last season, which resulted in easy wins for the Sharks when they faced him.

It was not as easy against current Blackhawks starter Corey Crawford. The Sharks went 1-1 against him with a goal differential of -2. Crawford is no elite netminder himself, in fact he is likely a bottom-10 starter in the league and his current 0.901 sv% reflects this, but unlike Turco he at least did not lose games singlehandedly for his team by letting in soft goal after soft goal. He gave his team a chance to win both nights against the Sharks, and they capitalized on their second try. The Sharks let them get their game together; their pure skill took over, and the Hawks ended up winning the final match-up of last season 6-3.

Tonight the two teams meet again for the first time this season, and the Sharks will look to build on their three-game winning streak. I would say that it won’t be easy, but with these Blackhawks you never know, it just might, depending on which Hawks squad shows up tonight. After outscoring the Vancouver Canucks 5-1 despite being outplayed most of the game on November 17th, the Blackhawks have been outscored by a combined score of 14-4 in their last two games. Most recently they were beat 9-2 by an Edmonton Oilers team very similar to themselves (minus the two elite top-pairing defencemen). The Oilers are fast, skilled, and exciting, and when the Blackhawks are right, so are they.

That is why I see tonight’s game as a clash of speed vs. size. Don’t get me wrong, the Blackhawks have some big players, such as Brent Seabrook, but their forwards are mostly of the small, quick, and super skilled variety. Think Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp. Likewise, the Sharks probably have above-average speed for the NHL, but the Blackhawks take speed to a whole different level. With forwards like Joe Thornton and Ryane Clowe, the Sharks main asset is their size and puck-protection ability along the boards, and this is where they hold a significant advantage over the Blackhawks.

Where the Blackhawks play a better transition game, score more off the rush, and make more pretty plays, what they lack, severely, is the ability to score the dirty goals, to wear the other team down. Their weaknesses are the Sharks’ strengths. More often than not, the Blackhawks will win on style points, whether against the Sharks or anyone else, but that doesn’t always translate to the scoreboard; just ask the Edmonton Oilers of last year. Most certainly, the Blackhawks won the style category for the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs, but would they have won the actual Cup without the likes of Dustin Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd? Because those were some of Blackhawks’ only providers of size, grit, and dirty goals. Now they don’t have those players anymore, or anyone like them. Can the Blackhawks win playoff series solely on pretty goals? Can they beat the Sharks that way? We will have to wait and see as these two Western Conference giants come together, and their styles clash along with them.

Written By Shark Circle