NHL: Sharks taste blood as Blackhawks falter

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Reigning Stanley Cup champions the Chicago Blackhawks have been deserted by their early-season form and now find themselves 6-2-3 having lost their last two games.

Such form will be a cause for concern for Chi Town hockey fans but those following the San Jose Sharks (10-1-1) will be licking their lips in anticipation.

The Blackhawks are still priced at 7/1 to retain their crown but at 8/1,  and with a better record so far, it is the Sharks who offer the better value.

Not only are Todd McLellan’s men top of the Pacific Division of the Western Conference but after 12 games the Californian outfit also boast the best record in the NHL.

While the Blackhawks have suffered back-to-back defeats for the second time already this season – having lost to Tampa Bay and Minnesota in succession – the Sharks have won their last two to rediscover the form that saw them start the campaign with six straight wins.

Chicago’s bid to become the first side to retain the Stanley Cup since the Detroit Red Wings in 1998 is already under threat and this is largely thanks to San Jose’s impressive home form.

The SAP Center is currently as daunting a place as any to visit in the NHL with the Sharks now unbeaten in five there this season.

With three of their next four fixtures being played in front of a home crowd, San Jose look well placed to extend their current streak and put some early daylight between themselves and their main play-off rivals.

Next up for McLellan’s side are 2012 champions Los Angeles but while the Kings find themselves on a two-game streak of their own, the Sharks’ state rivals have struggled to beat teams at home, going 4-2 at the Staples Center earlier this term.

San Jose then have the luxury of a three-game stint at home with Phoenix, Buffalo and Vancouver all making the trip to The Golden State. The Coyotes’ away record (3-3-1) will hardly strike fear into the Sharks, while the Sabres’ (2-4-0) makes it hard to predict anything other than a home win.

Vancouver pose arguably the sternest test over the next four games, but with a goal difference of just +1 (San Jose’s is +28) the Canucks are looking vulnerable at the back.

Having already enjoyed a 4-1 win over the Canadian outfit this season, the Sharks will be expected to run out comfortable winners again.

This would put San Jose on their second five-game streak of the year and potentially provide the team with the confidence required to go on a run that culminates in a first ever Stanley Cup win.

All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.

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James Curtis

After studying for a degree in journalism and gaining his NCTJ, James contributed to a wide range of papers, online publications and broadcasters including the South London Press, Press Association and Sky Sports News before joining the Ladbrokes News team.