A game off seems to have unsettled San Jose Sharks star Evgeni Nabokov. He certainly has looked comfortable in recent years against the Chicago Blackhawks.
Losers of a season-worst four straight games, the Sharks will likely have Nabokov in goal as they look to continue their dominance of the Blackhawks when the teams continue their season series Tuesday night.
San Jose's skid follows a stretch in which it picked up at least a point in eight straight games. A matchup with the Blackhawks (23-21-4), however, appears to give the Sharks a good opportunity to end their slump.
San Jose (25-15-7) has won eight straight - all in regulation - against Chicago since a 6-3 road loss on Oct. 7, 2005, and is 8-0-1 with three ties at home in this series since the start of 2000-01. The Sharks have held the Blackhawks under two goals in each of the last four meetings, including a 2-1 victory at Chicago on Oct. 10 in the only matchup this season.
Nabokov has started those last four games versus the Blackhawks, and is 6-0-0 with a 1.67 goals-against average in his last seven contests against them.
But Nabokov, who will represent the Western Conference in this weekend's All-Star game, has had three straight poor performances since getting his first game off this season on Jan. 13 against Anaheim. Nabokov, who started San Jose's first 43 games, has given up 15 goals in three losses since returning to the lineup.
San Jose lost 6-3 to NHL-best Detroit on Saturday night, with Nabokov allowing all six Red Wings goals.
It was the second straight home loss for the Sharks, who are 9-11-4 at HP Pavilion.
Chicago, meanwhile, has won three straight on the road and four in a row overall - three in shootouts - following an eight-game losing streak.
Unlike San Jose, Chicago is getting red-hot play in net. Patrick Lalime has been in goal for each of the Blackhawks' last four games, allowing five goals in regulation and just two in the three shootouts during that span.
His best effort may have been in Chicago's 2-1 win over Phoenix on Saturday night, making 38 saves and turning away all three attempts in a shootout.
It was the second 2-1 shootout win in two nights for the Blackhawks, who beat Colorado on Friday.
"He deserves all the credit," Chicago coach Denis Savard said of Lalime. "He got us back in the race."
With Nikolai Khabibulin struggling, Savard will likely give Lalime another start Tuesday. Lalime, however, is 4-6-0 with a 3.76 GAA in 10 games versus San Jose.
Blackhawks rookie Patrick Kane also has played a pivotal role during the four-game win streak. He has three goals and three assists in that span, and scored shootout goals in the last two games.
"He's exciting," Savard said. "Fans in Chicago have something they're really looking forward to. This kid's going to be with us for a long time, and he's fun to watch, fun to coach."