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Blackhawks Buzz: Sharks' firepower provides first test on four-game homestand

by Eric Lear / Chicago Blackhawks


1. HOME SWEET HOME

It’s been quite a while since fans have heard the familiar goal horn followed by “Chelsea Dagger.” With four straight road games surrounding the All-Star break, the Blackhawks haven’t played a game at the United Center in more than two weeks. And while they’ve played solid hockey away from home (they’re 15-11-3 on the road, including three straight wins), a return home is welcomed. The Blackhawks have posted a 21-5-1 record on home ice and have the most home wins in the NHL. The four-game homestand won’t get any easier after Tuesday’s tilt against San Jose; the Blackhawks will also have a rematch with second-place Dallas on Thursday before hosting Anaheim—who have recovered from a dreadful start to the season and are currently one of the hottest teams in the league—on Saturday. The Blackhawks have won both previous matchups against the Sharks this season, winning 5-2 on Nov. 25 and 4-3 in overtime on Dec. 20.

2. CENTER OF ATTENTION

As the pivot on one of the NHL’s most productive lines this season, Artem Anisimov’s work as Chicago’s second-line center has been well documented, but his contributions go much deeper. Anisimov, who’s averaging a career-high 18:25 of ice time in his first campaign with the Blackhawks, plays on both special teams units and actually has as many shorthanded goals as power play tallies (3). Through 55 games, he has 18 goals and is well on pace to pass his career high of 22 set two seasons ago with Columbus. Anisimov is coming off his second career four-point game (1G, 3A) on Saturday, his best offensive output of the season.

“He’s been terrific in a lot of ways,” Head Coach Joel Quenneville said after Anisimov’s big night in Dallas. “He quietly goes about his business without the puck, and he’s pretty handy with it.”

3. SHARK ATTACK

Just like the Blackhawks, San Jose returned from the All-Star break with a stretch of games away from home ice. Unlike the Blackhawks, who were a perfect three-for-three, the Sharks have dropped two of their three outings, most recently a lopsided 6-2 loss in Nashville. The Sharks, who continue their road trip in Chicago on Tuesday, were sitting in second place behind Los Angeles in the Pacific Division, but are in jeopardy of losing that spot as the Anaheim Ducks, winners of six straight games, have charged up the standings and can surpass them with a win in Pittsburgh on Monday. Still, San Jose has been one of the stronger road teams in the league this season, ranking second with 17 wins away from home and leading the league with 21 power-play goals, so staying out of the box will be crucial if the Blackhawks want to extend their run of success against the Sharks.

4. NOT YOUR AVERAGE JOES

Two of San Jose’s longest-tenured players continue to put up impressive numbers in their teal sweaters. Joe Pavelski, a 10-year veteran, leads the club with 51 points, and Joe Thornton isn’t too far behind—his 44 points tie him with Brent Burns (see below) for second on the team. Pavelski is coming off his two most productive seasons; he tallied a career-high 41 goals during the 2013-14 season and followed that up with 37 last season. His 25 goals this year put him sixth in the league. Thornton, who’s in his 11th season with San Jose, has traditionally been more of a distributor than a goal-scorer. He’s taken 82 shots, the fewest of the top-seven scorers on the team, and his 33 assists are a team high. Thornton posted a 10-game point streak from Jan. 9-Feb. 2, including two helpers on Jan. 26 against Colorado to become the 33rd player in NHL history to reach 1,300 career points.

5. MR. BURNS

San Jose has plenty of firepower not just on their top six—the team also boasts one of the most productive blueliners in the league in terms of shot generation and scoring. Brent Burns, a 6-foot-5, 230-pound defenseman, has thrown 213 pucks at the net, which trails only Alex Ovechkin’s 248 shots on goal. The former first-round pick has netted 18 goals, the most of any defenseman in the NHL, and is second in points behind two-time Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson. Burns is an anchor on the Sharks’ power play, which ranks third in the league in terms of conversion rate (22.1 percent) and shares the lead in goals (38). Burns has accounted for six of those tallies, two off his career best, which he has reached twice in his career.

THE FINAL WORD

On Saturday in Dallas, the Blackhawks took six penalties relied heavily on the penalty kill, which managed the keep the puck out and scored two shorthanded goals. However, Chicago will need to stay out of the box against the Sharks’ power play, which has been one of the league’s most potent across the last few seasons, with veterans like Burns, Pavelski and Thornton manning the units. The Blackhawks are back to playing great hockey after a small stumble before the All-Star break, and they’ve put up strong possession numbers by getting pucks to the net and limiting scoring chances for their opponents. If the Western Conference leaders can keep playing at that level, they should be able to set themselves up for another successful homestand.

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