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Blackhawks Buzz: February 1 at San Jose Sharks

by Brad Boron / Chicago Blackhawks

Though the Sharks have been near the top of the Pacific Division all year, the Blackhawks’ next opponent has struggled as of late; San Jose has dropped their last three games, scoring just one total goal in those losses. Even with this mini-slump, San Jose remains one of the league’s most prolific offenses, tallying 166 goals in 55 games, fifth-most in the NHL. Some of their offensive struggles can be traced to injuries throughout the lineup; only five San Jose skaters have played in every game this year, and the team is currently without top-six forwards Logan Couture and Tomas Hertl.

January saw the Blackhawks dealing with a dry spell of their own, but one player who was immune to its effects was Marian Hossa; in his past seven games, the veteran winger has managed seven points (6G, 1A). The 2014 Olympian has performed admirably against the Sharks throughout his career, tallying 26 points (16G, 10A) in 29 appearances against San Jose.

Originally drafted as a forward, but converted to a defenseman by Minnesota, Brent Burns has become a force at right wing for San Jose. Burns puts his 6-foot-5, 230-pound frame to good use, camping out in the opponent’s crease and putting back rebounds. In 42 games this season, the Barrie, Ontario, native has netted 15 goals and 14 assists, while averaging nearly 2 minutes of power-play time per contest.

When the Sharks’ offense is running on all cylinders, it usually begins with their tag-team of talented pivots: Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski. Even at age 34, Thornton is having one of his better offensive seasons—his 47 assists is just one shy of Sidney Crosby for the league lead—while also spending an average of 3:39 on the power play. Pavelski, who has recently played on the top line with Thornton and Burns, is on pace to break his career highs in goals, assists and points this season, and his 10 power-play goals ranks third in the NHL behind only Alex Ovechkin and Chris Kunitz.

Saturday will mark Brandon Bollig’s 100th regular-season game, a notable achievement for the undrafted winger. In 2013-14, Bollig has found some offense to go with his gritty style, scoring six goals and six assists in 56 contests this year, while also racking up 67 penalty minutes. While the scoreboard hasn’t always reflected it, Bollig and his linemates Marcus Kruger and Ben Smith have played their roles to perfection lately, providing a spark of energy in limited minutes while being responsible at both ends of the ice.

The Sharks remain one of the NHL’s most devastating combinations of size and speed, and one of the West’s best offensive squads, to say nothing of the reliable goaltending from Antti Niemi. If the Blackhawks can stop Joe Thornton’s line and limit their time on the penalty kill, they should be in a good position to beat San Jose. Puck possession will be a key; San Jose’s winning percentage is .684 when outshooting their opponents, second-best in the NHL, but they’re just a .500 team when they’re outshot in a game.

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