The first meeting this season between the Chicago Blackhawks and San Jose Sharks featured a matchup of the Western Conference's top teams that had gotten off to hot starts.
While Chicago has maintained its position atop the West, San Jose suddenly can't seem to find the back of the net.
The Blackhawks, though, aren't taking the struggling Sharks lightly heading into the rematch Friday night at the United Center.
San Jose has dropped six straight games - including a 5-3 home loss to Chicago on Feb. 5 - after a franchise-best 7-0-0 start.
"It doesn't really change much from our perspective," said Blackhawks winger Patrick Sharp, whose 10 assists are second on the team to Patrick Kane's 11. "They're still a top team across the league and, if anything, it makes them hungrier for a win. It was a tough game when we played them in their building and I assume it's going to be the same (Friday)."
Chicago, which is in the midst of a seven-game homestand, is the league's only team without a regulation defeat after Tuesday's 3-2 shootout loss to Anaheim in its first game at the United Center following a six-game trip.
The Blackhawks (10-0-3) failed to capitalize on nearly four minutes of power-play time in overtime and had their four-game winning streak snapped, falling to 1-3 in shootouts.
"(The shootout) is one thing we can say we have to be better at," coach Joel Quenneville said.
The Sharks (7-3-3) can't seem to score no matter the situation. They've been shut out in two of their last three games and have been held to two goals or fewer five times during their skid.
Since the loss to Chicago, they've fallen 1-0 in a shootout to Phoenix on Saturday, been routed 6-2 at Columbus on Monday and lost 1-0 in overtime at Nashville the next night.
San Jose outscored opponents 27-12 in its first seven games but has been outscored 15-7 since. Patrick Marleau had nine goals through the first five contests, but he's scored only once in the last eight.
``We have to find a way to get over the hump, get one by some goaltenders and find some wins here,' coach Todd McLellan said.
Antti Niemi hasn't allowed a goal in regulation in either of his last two starts, last giving up Kane's goal at the 11:52 mark of the second period in the loss to Chicago. He doesn't have a win to show for his recent efforts, though.
He made 21 saves versus Phoenix before stopping 24 shots at Nashville. It's unclear if Niemi will get the start against his former team. He is 6-1-3 with a 1.74 goals-against average this season but is 0-2-1 with a 4.38 GAA in his last three starts at the United Center.
``We just have to find ways to get one or two or three (goals)," said Joe Pavelski, who doesn't have an assist in his last nine games after having eight in his first four. "With the numbers we are pitching and the ways our goalies are playing, we can win with those numbers.'
Quenneville said Ray Emery, who is 3-0-0 with a 2.60 GAA, will be in net for Chicago. He's won each of his last two starts versus the Sharks, stopping 57 of 60 shots.
"He hasn't had a home game yet," Quenneville said. "He's played very well for us and he deserves it by how he's played."
Kane, who is among the NHL leaders with 20 points (nine goals, 11 assists) and has at least one in 12 of 13 games, scored twice in the first meeting with the Sharks. He had scored only once in his previous 12 in the series, including the postseason.
The Associated Press News Service
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