4 Observations from Chicago Blackhawks vs. San Jose Sharks

Andrew H. Smith@AndrewSmith53Contributor IIIFebruary 6, 2013

4 Observations from Chicago Blackhawks vs. San Jose Sharks

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    In an early marquee regular season matchup between the top two teams in the NHL, the Chicago Blackhawks defeated the San Jose Sharks 5-3, in a game that lived up to its hype.

    After the teams finished an explosive first period tied 3-3, the game settled into a defensive battle and turned in Chicago's favor midway through the second period.

    Sharks forward Andrew Desjardins crushed Blackhawks forward Jamal Mayers on a clean open-ice hit. However, Desjardins' check was ruled as a "hit to the head," and he received a 5-minute major penalty and game misconduct.

    In the ensuing 4-on-4, Patrick Kane scored his fifth goal of the season to give Chicago a 4-3 lead. He would also add an empty-net goal late in the third period to ice the game for the Blackhawks.  

    Aside from the controversy, the action and intensity between the two rivals was fantastic. Expect more of the same as the teams will meet again two more times in February, on Feb. 15 and Feb. 22. 

    Here are four takeaways from last night's action at the "Shark Tank."

Chicago Is the Best Road Team in the NHL

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    Not only are the Blackhawks the best all-around team in the NHL, but eight of their first 10 games have been played on the road. Over that span, Chicago has recorded a dominant 6-0-2 record.

    Chicago's penalty kill has been the most impressive aspect of their team through their first eight away contests. They are ranked first with an overall with a penalty kill of 94.9%.

    Against San Jose, the Blackhawks were 3-for-3 in short-handed situations. Overall, they have given up just one power-play goal in their eight road contests, killing off 30 of 31 power-plays.   

    The Blackhawks will look to continue their road dominance for the remainder of this week as they visit the Phoenix Coyotes and Nashville Predators before playing 11 of their next 14 games on home ice.

Disappearing Act

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    What a difference a power play can make.

    Through their first five games, San Jose scored 23 goals and recorded 12 of them on the power play. The Sharks scored at least four goals in each game and won each contest by at least two goals.

    Over their last five games, San Jose's power play has gone ice cold. They are just 1-for-21 on the man advantage. As a result, the Sharks have lost two straight regulation games. 

    Against a contending team like the Blackhawks, San Jose needs to capitalize on their opportunities when they have an extra attacker on the ice.

Corey Crawford Remains Hot for Blackhawks

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    Midway through the first period, it appeared that Corey Crawford was going to have an early night. Michal Handzus had just scored for the Sharks to give them a 3-1 lead. 

    Less than a minute later, Chicago stormed back with two goals to tie the first period 3-3 and Crawford was perfect after that. He pitched a shutout in the second and third periods, stopping all 23 shots he faced.  

    Crawford was one of Chicago's big question marks prior to the season, and he is on pace to answer his critics with the best season of his career.

    Through eight games, Crawford has a goals against of 1.82, and a save percentage of .930%. These statistics crush his career totals of a 2.47 goals against average and a save percentage of .912%.

    With Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp leading the Blackhawks' high-powered offense, Chicago will be a very tough team to defeat if Crawford maintains his level of play.

Sharks' Success Is Tied to Marleau and Thornton

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    It is no surprise that San Jose's recent losses and scoring struggles are directly related to the lack of production from their two big guns on offense.

    Although San Jose possesses strong depth on their roster, it is clear that they will only win consistently with production from Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton.  

    Marleau and Thornton combined for 28 points over San Jose's first six games, and the Sharks raced out to a 6-0-0 record.

    Against the Blackhawks, neither player recorded a single point and collectively, they took two shots.

    Let me repeat that.

    San Jose's best offensive weapons combined to take two shots. 

    Give credit to Chicago's defense for making both players invisible on the ice, but the bottom line is the lack of aggressiveness and production from Marleau and Thornton will not translate into wins for San Jose. In fact, neither Marleau nor Thornton have recorded a point in the past four games. The Sharks' record is a lackluster 1-2-1 during that stretch.