Chicago Blackhawks: Previewing an Early Showdown with the Sharks

Jon FromiSenior Analyst IFebruary 5, 2013

So...we meet again? A rested Antti Niemi and the San Jose Sharks await the Blackhawks Tuesday night.
So...we meet again? A rested Antti Niemi and the San Jose Sharks await the Blackhawks Tuesday night.Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

The Chicago Blackhawks get the second half of a six-game road trip underway Tuesday when the puck drops in San Jose. Two teams currently atop ESPN's NHL Power Rankings square off at the HP Pavilion in what should be a stiff test for both teams.

For the 'Hawks, the Sharks are an early season test, but that's all this game is.

No hardware is going to be handed out following the late West Coast start. The only reason to stay up is the hope that Chicago can put together a solid effort and come out of San Jose with a win. It has failed to do that in its last four visits.

The Blackhawks haven't been the electric team that opened the season but still have managed to post four points in the first three games of the road trip. Despite living out of a suitcase for the last week, Chicago should possess the fresher legs in this matchup.

The Sharks come into the contest having dropped their first regulation contest of the season. Monday in Anaheim, the Ducks rallied with a pair of third-period goals to win a 2-1 decision.

The Sharks did give their starting goalie the night off, so Antti Niemi is rested and ready to go. You may remember Niemi. He played a few games for the 'Hawks a few years ago.

Niemi is 6-0-1 this season with a 1.80 goals against average and a .936 save percentage. Once again, he'll go head-to-head with Corey Crawford, who has posted quality numbers as well to open the campaign (5-0-2, 1.66 GAA, .934 save percentage) and also was rested in Chicago's last game.

Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville revealed yesterday that Dave Bolland was a good bet to return to the lineup after leaving Friday's game in Vancouver with a leg injury. That's definitely good news.

The Sharks have been a tough team to keep off the scoreboard early this season. With that said, scoring has been an issue on the road trip for the 'Hawks, and they now face the league's stingiest defense. The sloppy passing exhibited in Calgary Saturday night is not going to cut it against the Sharks.

Chicago managed to flat-out steal two points from the Flames on a night where it was far from its best. If the 'Hawks are still fatigued heading into Tuesday's Western Conference showdown, San Jose could make Tuesday's late night a long one for Quenneville and his players.