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Hawks hope to bounce back against surging Sharks

by David Kalan
BLACKHAWKS (12-6-3) at SHARKS (12-5-1)


Last 10:
Chicago 5-4-1; San Jose 7-2-1

Season Series: This is the first meeting of the season for Chicago and San Jose. The Sharks won three of four last season, but the Blackhawks took the finale, a 6-3 win at United Center on March 14, 2011.

Big Story: After their worst defensive performance in nearly four years, the Blackhawks will try to bounce back as they hit the home stretch of their annual November Circus trip against San Jose, which is among the hottest teams in the NHL.

Team Scope:

Blackhawks: As Chicago opens the second half of its Circus Trip, the Hawks sit nicely entrenched in first place in the Central Division, tied with Minnesota and Pittsburgh for the most points in the League. However, Nashville and Detroit are both nipping at the Hawks' heels and after an embarrassing 9-2 loss in Edmonton on Saturday night, it's hard for Chicago to feel too good about itself.

Those nine tallies are the most Chicago has surrendered since Jan. 1, 2008 -- almost exactly four years ago -- and the defense and goaltending will need to shore itself up if the Blackhawks hope to avoid a similar fate against the Sharks. Helping the cause is that Corey Crawford should get the start for Chicago. Crawford was supposed to have the night off Sunday in Edmonton, but after backup Ray Emery gave up seven goals, he was pressed into action. Still, the workload was lighter than usual and with four days off, the hope is that Crawford -- and the Hawks -- will have mentally moved past the debacle.

Sharks: San Jose had struggled at the start of the year, but after reeling off five wins to start a six-game road trip of its own last month, the Sharks are rolling. San Jose has won 11 of its last 14 games, shooting the team up the Pacific standings and into first place. The Sharks do have competition -- Dallas, Phoenix and Los Angeles are all within two points of them -- but with a potent offense and a plus-14 goal differential, the numbers bode well for San Jose to continue its hot streak.

Wednesday is the first game in a stretch in which the Sharks will play six of seven games at home, but San Jose seems perfectly fine on the road, too. The Sharks swept a two-game trip through Dallas and Colorado -- on back-to-back nights, no less -- with identical 4-1 scores this past weekend. Patrick Marleau led the way Sunday night in Denver with his first hat trick in two years.

Who's Hot:
Sharks captain Joe Thornton has been his usual self with 7 points in the last three games, but no one typically expects to see defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic matching his scoring prowess. The Pickle has 7 points of his own in the same span. … After a slow start to the year, Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews is rounding into form with 10 points in his last six games.

Injury Report: Michael Frolik (shoulder) and Brent Seabrook (lower body) are both listed as questionable for Wednesday. … San Jose should have its full lineup with the exception of goalie Antero Niittymaki, who has been out all season following hip surgery. He is approximately one month from returning.

Stat Pack:
Chicago has already established itself as one of the Western Conference's elite, but making sure the Hawks get a top seed and hold home ice advantage could be a key for them in any long playoff run. Chicago is 7-1-2 this season at the United Center, but on the road, the Hawks' 5-5-1 mark is a veritable coin flip.

Puck Drop:
The Blackhawks could certainly use a win to rebuild their confidence after their blowout loss to Edmonton, but a win in northern California could also be the first shot in a fight for the mental advantage between these two teams. The Sharks and Blackhawks are very familiar with each other and with both leading their respective divisions again, there is a very good chance that Wednesday night could be a postseason preview.

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