SHARKS (7-3-3) at BLACKHAWKS (10-0-3)
TV: NHLN-US, CSN-California, CSN-Chicago
Last 10: San Jose 4-3-3; Chicago 7-0-3
Season series: The Blackhawks beat the Sharks, 5-3, in a wild game that saw six goals in the first 12 minutes in their lone previous meeting on Feb. 5 at HP Pavilion.
Big story: The NHL-leading Blackhawks will try to bounce back from a rare loss Tuesday night, but for the Sharks, losers of six in a row, the stakes will be even higher as they look to finally end their stunning skid.
Sharks: To say the Sharks' season appears to have changed course would be an understatement. After winning seven straight games to start the campaign, San Jose has now dropped its last six outings after a 1-0 overtime loss in Nashville Tuesday night. The Sharks have now fallen out of first place in the Pacific Division, and the situation is in danger of becoming even more tenuous considering the gauntlet of a six-game road trip they're currently on, which features two games against Chicago and a trip to St. Louis.
For the Sharks to stem the tide they'll need to figure out where their offense went. After scoring 23 goals in the first five games of the season, San Jose has just 11 goals in its last eight. Most of that startling decrease can probably be linked to Patrick Marleau, who scored a historic nine goals in the team's explosive start, but has just one goal and one assist since.
Blackhawks: After winning the final four games of a six-game road trip, Chicago appeared set up to roll when it started its seven-game homestand Tuesday night, but with a late goal to force overtime the Anaheim Ducks put an abrupt end to those plans. Anaheim eventually won in the shootout, giving the Blackhawks just their third loss of the season. While goalie Corey Crawford certainly can't be faulted too much -- he still only gave up two goals Tuesday night and has been among the best goalies in the League all season -- he will be getting the night off against San Jose. The team announced Thursday afternoon that backup Ray Emery will get the start.
While the Blackhawks did lose their last time out they still managed to pad their lead in the standings. All three of their losses have all been in the shootout, which means Chicago still has a shot at matching or besting the 2006-07 Anaheim Ducks' mark of 16 games for the longest stretch without a regulation loss to start a season. Considering the next four games are against San Jose, Los Angeles, Vancouver and San Jose again, if the Blackhawks manage to break the record, they'll have earned it.
Who's hot: Despite the Sharks' woes, Antti Niemi has played about as well as a goalie can without getting a win in four games. In his last two starts Niemi stopped 45 of the 46 total shots he faced, and he was not scored on in regulation in three of the starts he's made this month. … Jonathan Toews has two goals and four assists in his last four games for Chicago.
Injury report: Dan Carcillo practiced for Chicago on Thursday for the first time since being placed on IR with a knee injury after the first game of the season. While Carcillo said his knee felt good he is unlikely to return Friday. … Andrew Desjardins was placed on IR for San Jose on Feb. 9 with flu-like symptoms.
David Kalan - NHL.com Staff Writer
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