GAME: San Jose Sharks (15-9-11-3) at Chicago Blackhawks (9-19-7-4).
TIME: Friday, 8:30 p.m. EST.
After closing 2003 with a win over the worst team in the league, the surging
San Jose Sharks will look to begin the new year with a victory against the
lowly Chicago Blackhawks.
San Jose opened a four-game trip Wednesday with another strong defensive
effort in a 1-0 victory over Columbus.
Alyn McCauley scored with 4:59 left in regulation and Evgeni Nabokov stopped
26 shots for his fourth shutout of the season, helping San Jose run its
unbeaten streak to six games (5-0-1).
"We knew they're on a losing streak at home, so they were going to play a
tight game," Nabokov said. "They kind of sucked us in and we didn't play at
the level we wanted. But we played smart."
The six-game unbeaten streak is one shy of the Sharks' season-high
seven-game run (5-0-2) from Nov. 15-30.
Nabokov has started each game during the current unbeaten streak, allowing
eight goals while posting two shutouts.
Patrick Marleau has been the offensive catalyst for the Sharks of late,
though his six-game point streak came to an end Wednesday. Marleau is one of
five Sharks with at least 10 goals.
With 29 points, the Blackhawks are ahead of only Washington, Pittsburgh and
Columbus in the NHL, but have played better of late.
Although Chicago has only three wins in its last 25 games, it is 2-2-1-1 in
its last six, including 3-0 victories over St. Louis and Detroit -- two of the
league's top teams -- and a 4-3 overtime loss to Vancouver on Wednesday.
Blackhawks captain Alex Zhamnov returned to the lineup Wednesday after
missing 35 games following back surgery. He forged a 1-1 tie at 7:07 of the
second period with his first goal of the season.
"It was a little tough in the first five minutes," Zhamnov said. "It
doesn't matter how hard you practice, a game situation is different. But after
that, it was fine. I think the second game will be much easier for me."
Chicago enters the new year with just nine wins -- the fewest in team history
since the 1956-57 team won eight games through December.