Pluses, minuses for Sharks-Blackhawks
San Jose aims to play spoiler, Chicago must show desperation, says NHL analyst Weekesby Kevin Weekes @KevinWeekes / Special to NHL.com
Each Wednesday throughout the regular season, Kevin Weekes will be offering his pluses and minuses for the teams competing in the NBCSN "Wednesday Night Hockey" game in his Weekes on the Web blog.
The San Jose Sharks and Chicago Blackhawks face off on "Wednesday Night Hockey."
Chicago (31-30-8) seeks critical points in the Western Conference wild-card race but San Jose (29-35-5) will try to play spoiler when they meet at United Center (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN).
Here's my breakdown of the game:
Pluses: Timo Meier leads the Sharks with 47 points (21 goals, 26 assists). He's one of four players with at least 40 points (Brent Burns, Evander Kane, 45 each; Erik Karlsson, 40). San Jose also has four players with at least 30 points, so they've been doing it by committee and not relying on one or two guys.
Defenseman Radek Simek has been exceptional this season and was rewarded with a four-year contract on Monday. He has nine points (two goals, seven assists) but is known for his defensive play. The Sharks are 24-19-4 with him in the lineup and 5-16-1 without him.
For as much as the Sharks have struggled this season, they have the best penalty kill in the NHL at 86.4 percent. The Sharks have not allowed a power-play goal in 44 of 69 games this season and have allowed one power-play goal in 21 games. That means there have only been four times this season when they've allowed more than one power-play goal in a game, and that's pretty remarkable.
Video: OTT@SJS: Kane scores PPG in 1st period
Minuses: San Jose has lost three straight games and eight of its past 11 (3-7-1). The Sharks began the season with four straight losses but were 13-11-1 on Nov. 25. Since then, they are 16-24-4 and have had one winning streak longer than three games (six; Nov. 5-16) and have had five losing streaks of at least four games.
Injuries have hurt them. Karlsson, a defenseman, (broken thumb) and forward Thomas Hertl (knee) are out for the season and forward Logan Couture, who missed time with an ankle injury before returning two weeks ago, could miss some time with an upper-body injury sustained in a 4-3 loss to the Colorado Avalanche on Sunday.
The Sharks have made the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 14 of the past 15 seasons and won't qualify this season. They haven't been able to get anything going offensively or defensively, ranking 26th in the League in goals per game (2.58) and 27th in goals against per game (3.17).
Pluses: It starts with Patrick Kane. He has 82 points (31 goals, 51 assists) and has at least 20 goals in his first 13 NHL seasons. Kane could score 100 points for the third time in five seasons and has been one of the most consistent players in the League since his rookie season of 2007-08. Behind Kane, the next closest player on the team in points is Jonathan Toews with 58 (18 goals, 40 assists).
I like what I've seen out of rookies Dominik Kubalik and Kirby Dach. Kubalik leads all rookies in goals with 29 and has 45 points in 67 games. He wasn't someone people were talking about before the season. Dach, the No. 3 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, has 22 points (eight goals, 14 assists) in 63 games while averaging 14:14 of ice time per game. These two should be important pieces for Chicago
Corey Crawford is 15-20-3 with a 2.79 goals-against average and .916 save percentage and has won four of his past six games and has allowed two goals in five of them. Crawford could have won all six of them had the Blackhawks scored goals.
Video: CHI@DET: Kane caps pretty passing play from in close
Minuses: They have lost two straight games including to the last-place Detroit Red Wings on Friday and have scored one goal in those two games. For a team that's eight points out of a wild-card spot with 13 games to play, I'd like to see more desperation out of them. Every point matters.
Forward Alex DeBrincat has not performed to the level he is capable of especially after his breakout season in 2018-19. DeBrincat had 76 points including 41 goals in 82 games. He hasn't missed a game this season and has 18 goals and 42 points.
With all the star power on the Blackhawks, it's hard to believe they rank 30th in the League on the power play (14.5 percent). That inability has definitely cost them some games. And it will be a tough test against the Sharks, who as I mentioned, have the top penalty-killing unit in the League.
THREE THINGS TO WATCH
1. Compete level of Sharks
2. Desperation of Blackhawks
3. Does Crawford continue his recent solid play?