When the Chicago Blackhawks and San Jose Sharks met last week, it was a contest between the only team still unbeaten in regulation and the one that was the last to lose at all, respectively. Friday, February 15, the teams meet in the United Center at 5:30 p.m. PST having gone in different directions.
By a quirk of the condensed schedule forced by the NHL lockout, the third and final meeting is one week later back in the same building—just 17 days after the first.
Since their last contest, Chicago has lost just one more game. All three of their losses have been in a shootout to keep them unbeaten outside of the skills competition. Last week's game was the third straight loss for San Jose (one in a shootout), and they have dropped all three since (one in overtime and another in a shootout).
At 7-3-3, the Sharks are still off to a start good enough that only five teams have a better point percentage (.654). But after scoring 22 goals in their first five games, they have just 11 in their next eight (both figures exclude shootouts and empty-net goals) to fall from second to being in a three-way tie for 18th at 2.62 goals per game—barely out of the bottom third of the NHL.
Chicago is scoring in bunches, averaging the most goals per game in the Western Conference (3.31). They won their games on the road and are now at home. San Jose has dropped all three (one in overtime) on the road since their opening two wins in Alberta, Canada.
Aside from clearly playing better right now, Chicago holds most of the statistical comparisons for the entire season. Besides scoring, they hold a slim edge in their own end, ranking behind only two teams in the NHL in goals against (1.92) while San Jose is tied for fifth (2.08).
Chicago is better five-on-five (1.50 to San Jose's 1.12 ratio of goals scored vs. allowed), but San Jose might have the special teams edge. Even though San Jose ranks behind the NHL-leading 91.5 percent penalty kill of Chicago, they just had a streak of 36 consecutive kills end and are a close sixth-ranked 87 percent kill. And even with the struggles the Sharks are having on the power play (two goals total over the eight-game scoring drought), they rank ahead of their hosts by three percent on the power play.
But that special teams edge is tenuous at best. The same can be said in the circle, where San Jose has a 58-draw advantage over their foes compared to Chicago's edge of three. But San Jose turns the puck over 39 more times and Chicago takes it away 38 more, giving them almost two more possessions each game than their guests.
And when it comes down to it, scoring statistics are more important. They encompass even strength, power play and penalty kill results, the latter statistics only tell us how they got to the final score represented by goals for and against.
Of course, wins and losses are what really matters. Since Chicago has never lost a hockey game this season (only a skills competition) while the Sharks have lost six in a row, the home team should win this game. That the goals scored and allowed are also tilted away from the visitors makes them the clear underdog.
Yet there are five reasons San Jose will win this game in regulation.