The Blackhawks played like a desperate team tonight. They had several odd-man rushes and scoring chances galore. They out shot the Sharks 34-21. But they couldn’t solve Antii Niemi who played easily his best game of the year, turning back the frustrated Hawks on several occasions. I was at the Tank tonight and his spectacular save in the 3rd period created quite a buzz in the Arena. Nemo is totally locked in right now. If I may be so bold, I declare that if the Sharks regularly get this type of play from Niemi, they will be in contention for the top seed in the Western Conference. Yep, life on the limb, its tough. I further proclaim if the Sharks manage 16 wins in the playoffs, they will be Stanley Cup champions. You can’t find this type of analysis anywhere else.
The Sharks may not have generated a ton of scoring chances but that doesn’t mean they didn’t do some things very well. They out-hit the Hawks, won more faceoffs, blocked more shots and killed more penalties. They showed the Hawks that they don’t need to play their very best game in order to beat them. A hot goalie trumps all.
Even though the Hawks didn’t break through tonight, I was very impressed with how dangerous they are. Between Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp, Viktor Stalberg, Duncan Keith, and now the young phenom, Nick Leddy, this squad is uber-talented. Corey Crawford has settled in as the clear cut #1 in net, something the Blackhawks have really lacked since arguably Eddie “The Eagle” Belfour (Every Sharks fans favorite). Even when Niemi backstoppedthe Hawks to the Stanley Cup, he came in at midseason, led them on the Cup run, and wasn’t resigned in the offseason.
Jason Demers scored the only goal of the game on a powerplay with under 3 minutes left in the 2nd period. The game-winner was his first of the year. The Sharks have high hopes for Demers and he had spent the past 2 seasons securing his spot in the top 6. But now he needs to keep getting better in order to hold on to it. He is typically on the 3rd unit, but Justin Braun is nipping at his skate heels. Competition is a good thing however, and depth on defense is something the Sharks have lacked for the past few seasons. Currently they have Boyle, Burns, Braun, Murray, Vlasic, Demers, White, & Vandermeer. All are either young and talented or established veteran. McLellan has to pick 2 guys in that group not to even suit up for the game. It’s a good problem to have and if the young guys can play quality minutes, the group should be reasonably fresh come postseason.
“Barometer week” continues on Saturday night when the Canucks come to town. These two teams are not fond of one another to say the least. Joe Thornton and Ryan Kesler get along about as well as Harry Potter and Lord Voldemort. What this game does represent is another potential Western Conference Finals preview. Roberto Luongo is off to another slow start in net for Vancouver. There was bound to be some type of a letdown for the Canucks after losing the Stanley Cup Finals in 7 games to the Boston Bruins. But the Canucks are still plenty in the thick of things in the West, and anyone who plans on winning the Conference will probably have to deal with Vancouver along the way.
The Sharks have a chance to make it 5 straight wins Saturday night. They now have 15 of 18 possible points in the month of November. They are currently in their most consistent stretch of the year. The Blackhawks may have given the Sharks forwards fits all game long, but the Sharks did what good teams do, find a way to win, regardless of the situation.
Big ups to the people in Section 202 at the Tank, great fans! My sis and I had a blast!