‘Hawks need true goalie; Sharks need defense

SAN JOSE, Calif. – Don’t make too much out of the recently completed season series between the San Jose Sharks and Chicago Blackhawks if you’re trying to project what might happen if the two teams meet in the playoffs, likely to represent the West in the Stanley Cup Finals.

Sharks defenseman Rob Blake (R) tries to keep up with the Blackhawks’ Patrick Sharp.
(AP Photo)

San Jose and Chicago may have figured out ways to, in the least, mask fatal flaws – defensive personnel for the Sharks and goaltending for the Blackhawks.

In the Blackhawks’ 4-3 overtime victory on Thursday, the Sharks’ defensive corps featured their shortcomings. There was a 40-year-old who is basically a power-play specialist when he’s not skating a step behind, or taking that annoying hook or hold at a critical time. Sorry, Rob Blake(notes). Yes, you’re a future Hall-of-Famer, but a No. 1 defenseman no longer fits.

There was also Jason Demers(notes), a rookie with a feel for the offensive end, but too much of a risk to expose in the playoffs. Maybe next season, kid.

Marc-Edouard Vlasic(notes) is also another red flag. He’s taken an unexpected and unexplainable step back during his fourth year. He’s fine defensively, most of the time, but his offense has gone south.

And rounding out the defensive field: Kent Huskins(notes) is, well, Kent Huskins. Jay Leach(notes) is a waiver-wire find, already playing for his third organization of the season, and Douglas Murray(notes) is the only physical skater on the blue line. The Sharks would probably like to have two more just like Murray.

To be fair, Dan Boyle(notes) was missing when the Blackhawks came calling, out for his third straight game when the pain in his upper body was more than the coaching staff deemed wise to risk. When you’re a slam dunk to reach the playoffs, that is the right decision at this time of year, no matter how much fans and media are making one game out to be.

Sharks general manager Doug Wilson, a pretty fair defenseman in his day, will have to get creative and aggressive to fix San Jose’s problems; he has until March 3 to show what he can get.

All season the Sharks have used their minor-league affiliate as a Sunday saver, banking salary-cap space at the expense of youngsters who don’t have to be exposed to waivers and have nothing better to do but rack up frequent-flyer miles. Well, it’s almost time to open the vault and see just how far that money will go.

Dream if you will that Wilson can pull a second deal in as many deadlines with division-rival Anaheim to snag, oh, a Scott Niedermayer(notes), but anything short of the multiple-Norris Trophy winner would work, too. The Sharks need more depth on defense, and that might mean having to part with some money on the current roster.

Cristobal Huet made 34 saves in Thursday’s win at San Jose.
(Getty Images)

On the flip side, the Blackhawks can’t feel good about putting all their Stanley Cup hopes on Cristobal Huet(notes) – and don’t try to float the idea of turning to the untested Antti Niemi(notes).

Yeah, yeah, the Blackhawks have a better goals-against average than the Sharks, who are quite confident with 34-year-old Evgeni Nabokov(notes) between the pipes. And we’re aware that only New Jersey and that Martin Brodeur(notes) guy has better team goaltending numbers than Chicago.

Just the same, is anyone else concerned about the way Huet seems perfectly content to just bat pucks aside, rebounds be damned? He’s not a goalie who has the reputation of controlling things in his end. It’s more like someone battling and hoping his team just outscores the opposition.

And so far, that’s worked, as he made 34 saves in Thursday’s victory.

The trick will be similar to the challenge Wilson faces in San Jose as Chicago GM Stan Bowman has to muster all the guile he shares with his dad, Scotty Bowman, to first identify and then find a way to slip a playoff-tested goalie under the cap.

There doesn’t appear to be a lot of quality goalies available at the deadline, but there is one intriguing name – Marty Turco(notes). If there’s one goalie who tends to give the Sharks fits, and who has erased his early-career reputation as someone who struggles in the playoffs, it’s Turco. The Dallas Stars just might be in a trading kind of mood with their long-time netminder since he’s set to be an unrestricted free agent and the Stars have no legitimate Cup aspirations this season.

Chicago’s alternative is to believe it can win like Detroit – get by with average goaltending because you’ll only ask the guy to give up one or two of 20-odd shots per game in the playoffs. That’s a dicey way to go about it, and not one that will make fans in the Windy City feel confident.

This is what’s for sure. The Sharks and Blackhawks are about as equal as equal can be. Chicago won twice in overtime, blew out San Jose once and lost to the Sharks at home when they were rested and the visitors were playing the second night of back-to-backs.

That’s it for the sample set, folks. Now it’s time for Wilson and Bowman to get busy.

Ross McKeon is an NHL editor for Yahoo! Sports. Send Ross a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Friday, Jan 29, 2010