There was a lot of excitement going into Wednesday's Western Conference showdown between the San Jose Sharks and Chicago Blackhawks, and the game didn't disappoint.
After an extraordinary first period in which each team scored three goals, Blackhawks star forward Patrick Kane scored twice in the final two periods to help his team earn a 5-3 victory.
The Blackhawks and Sharks are the top two teams in the conference standings, but what did we learn from their thrilling battle on Wednesday?
Let's look at five takeaways from Chicago's impressive win.
Patrick Marleau is Struggling
San Jose Sharks forward Patrick Marleau appeared to be on his way to the scoring title after he began the season with four multi-goal games, but he has scored zero goals with one assist and a plus/minus rating of minus-4 in the last five games.
Here's how Marleau has performed over the first 10 games of the 2013 season.
|First 5 Games||9||4||13||5||4.8||5|
|Last 5 Games||0||1||1||-4||3.6||0|
Marleau's start to the season has been a tale of two very different five-game stretches. He has been less aggressive offensively in his last five games, which his 3.6 shots per game indicates, but the struggles of Joe Thornton have also contributed to Marleau's lack of production recently.
Thornton has just one assist in his last five games, and when he's not being an elite playmaker on the Sharks' top line, Marleau has to work harder to score goals.
There's no reason to panic about Marleau's performances of late, but he has to play better for the Sharks to beat top-tier teams such as the Blackhawks.
Patrick Kane is Better Than He Was During 2009-10 Season
Patrick Kane added two more goals (one was an empty-net) to his season total on Wednesday, and he now has six goals in 10 games.
The 24-year-old winger has scored at a point-per-game rate twice in his five-year NHL career, and with 15 points in 10 games to begin this season, no one will be surprised if Kane scores more than 48-plus points in 2013. He has failed to score a single point in just one game this year.
Kane is a much different player than he was last season. The young star has come into this season with a different mindset, and he's making the teammates around him much more productive, which is the sign of a player on top of his game.
As one of the most consistent players in the league, Kane is playing the best hockey of his career and is largely responsible for Chicago being ranked seventh in goals scored (3.2 per game). He's been the best forward in the Western Conference this season.
San Jose's Power Play is Really Struggling
After starting the season with 12 power-play goals in their first 32 chances, the Sharks have just one power-play goal in their last five games.
San Jose has played three games in the last week against teams in the bottom half of the league in penalty killing (Edmonton 16th, Anaheim 26th), and went 0-13 on the power-play.
The problem for the Sharks is the lack of shots being taken on the man advantage. With Joe Thornton and Logan Couture on the ice, San Jose has two elite playmakers to quarterback the power play, so there's no excuse for the team's lack of aggressiveness.
The Sharks rank fourth in total power-play time and lead the league with 21 third period power-play opportunities. However, San Jose has scored just one power-play goal in their last six opportunities in the third period, and being unable to put games away with their power play is a real concern for head coach Todd McLellan.
Getting offense defenseman Brent Burns back in the lineup will help the Sharks' power play, but unless San Jose is aggressive and establishes a strong net-front presence, their struggles with the man advantage will continue.
Blackhawks' Young Forwards are Providing Valuable Scoring Depth
Chicago's young forwards are giving head coach Joel Quenneville great bottom-six depth this season.
Against the Sharks, 20-year-old left-winger Brandan Saad, 22-year-old center Marcus Krueger and 21-year-old right-winger Andrew Shaw each scored a first period goal to help the Blackhawks overcome an early 2-0 deficit.
We know that Chicago's top-six forwards such as Kane, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa and Dave Bolland are reliable offensive players, but one of the real strengths of this Blackhawks team has been the play of their bottom-six forwards at both ends of the ice this year.
The young forwards on the team's third and fourth lines bring a lot of energy, toughness and offensive skill to the ice each game, and this kind of depth has been a major part of Chicago's early-season success. Playing on a veteran team with championship experience has also been very beneficial to the Blackhawks' best young players.
Sharks are Doomed When Top Forwards Don't Produce
When the Sharks' best forwards, including Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, Patrick Marleau and Logan Couture, don't produce offensively, it can be very difficult for San Jose to beat elite teams.
Pavelski was the only one of the four players listed above to get on the score sheet against the Blackhawks when he opened the scoring early in the first period.
Thornton and Marleau have scored zero goals with just one assist each in the last five games, while Couture and Pavelski have just one point over the last three games. With that said, it's not surprising that the Sharks have gone 0-2-1 after starting the season 7-0.
With offensive defenseman Brent Burns unable to play through the first 10 games of the season because of a lower-body injury, the Sharks' blue line hasn't given the team much offensive production. Dan Boyle and Marc-Edouard Vlasic are the only Sharks defensemen who have scored more than two points thus far.
With that said, San Jose's top scorers will have to carry the team offensively. The Sharks don't have enough offensive skill on their third and fourth lines, so the superstar forwards are going to be under a lot of pressure to be score goals against the NHL's best teams.
Niemi is not the type of goalie who can steal games for the Sharks when the team's top stars underperform.
Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter.
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