Tonight at HP Pavilion, the NHL's top two teams will see how they measure up against each other in their first meeting of the 2012-13 campaign.
The Blackhawks (7-0-2) lead the league with 16 points, just one more than the Sharks (7-1-1). San Jose opened the season with seven straight wins, the Blackhawks six. Chicago has yet to lose in regulation.
"Both of us have had good starts to the year," Sharks center Logan Couture said. "We want to see what they have, and I'm sure they want to see what we have. We're looking forward to an exciting game."
Added Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane: "Both teams seem to be really good this year and obviously want to prove something to the world."
The Sharks will have the home-ice edge Tuesday, but the Blackhawks should have an advantage in terms of energy. San Jose played at Anaheim on Monday night, a 2-1 loss to end the Sharks' eight-game run with at least a point. Chicago hasn't played since Saturday night at Calgary.
"Whether it's back-to-back or not, there's no excuses out here," Sharks forward Joe Pavelski said. "We're ready to play. We're going to go from there. There's going to be times throughout the season where everybody's tired. There's no excuses. They're big points early on. We're playing well and so are they, so it should be an exciting game."
Both teams have slowed down a bit since their blistering starts as opponents throughout the League have gotten back up to speed after the lockout. The Sharks averaged 4.6 goals in their first five games and got two goals from Patrick Marleau in each of their first four games. Now they've lost two straight, first 2-1 in a shootout to Nashville then 2-1 in regulation to the Ducks.
Before beating Calgary 3-2 in a shootout Saturday, the Blackhawks lost 3-2 to Minnesota and 2-1 to Vancouver, both times in shootouts.
"I think you could have predicted it was going to be wide open to start and then things would tighten up as the season goes on," Kane said. "They've been playing very good defensively all year, so hopefully we can sneak a few by them tonight. But for us, we've had a lot of success in this room offensively, five-on-five, every year I've been here. That's something we just have to continue to work at."
The Sharks' power play provided much of the offense during their fast start with 12 goals in 32 attempts. In the past four games, San Jose is just 1-for-18 on the power play. The Sharks will try to get back on track against the NHL's top-ranked penalty kill.
"They're going to come hard," Couture said of the Blackhawks' penalty killers. "They've got guys who are short-handed threats. They look for offense on it, so we got to be sharp, keep our shifts short, try to play in their end and just shoot the puck more.
"We just had a meeting to try to get it going. Obviously we started off well. We were supporting each other; we were getting pucks to the net. That's something we haven't done lately. We've left guys on islands by themselves in the zone and haven't gotten many shots on net. That's something we need to change."
The Blackhawks are preparing for a Sharks' power play that traditionally has been tough on opponents, especially at home.
"They have a great PP," Blackhawks center Dave Bolland said. "They're always moving around, they're never in the same spot, they're always moving from side to side. So we've got to be aware of where Marleau, where Joe [Thornton] is or any of them, or [Dan] Boyle. It's going to be a good test for us. It's going to be a great test."
For the Blackhawks and Sharks, this will be a proverbial "measuring stick" contest.
"We know that right now these are the two top teams in the West," Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said. "The last couple years we've always had great games against San Jose, especially in this building. Even though they played last night, we always know it's going to be a high tempo. Regardless of what San Jose's capable of doing as a team, we know we've got to be way better than we were our last game in Calgary. So as a team it's more about us and how we're prepared to play in this locker room. If we get our game back on track, we'll give ourselves a good chance to win."
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