Daily Herald
No place like the Madhouse on Madison for Blackhawks
By Tim Sassone | Daily Herald Staff
Published: 12/22/2009 12:05 AM

Blackhawks game day

San Jose Sharks at the United Center, 7 p.m.

TV: Versus

Radio: WGN 720-AM

What to watch: The Hawks' defense, first in the NHL, will be put to the test against Sharks center Joe Thornton, who leads the league in scoring. Hawks goalie Cristobal Huet goes for his third straight shutout.

Season series: The Hawks lead 2-0, winning 4-3 in overtime at the UC on Nov. 15 and 7-2 in San Jose on Nov. 25 on the strength of 3 short-handed goals.

Next: Detroit Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena, 6:30 p.m. Wednesday

Defenseman Duncan Keith is one of the few Blackhawks who has been with the team long enough to remember how it was at the United Center a few short years ago.

Back then it was the Mausoleum on Madison, a building void of personality that was more than half empty on game nights.

And now?

Welcome to the Madhouse on Madison, an electric building that's home to one of the most dynamic teams in the NHL.

The Hawks are a league-best 16-3-1 at home and have lost just once in their last 14 games.

"I think we have a lot of confidence at home and our fans are great," Keith said. "Obviously it's in our comfort zone. We're at home, we're in our beds, coming to our rink and our stalls.

"It's just fun playing in front of this bunch of fans when they're cheering. It's fun for us, and we feed off that."

The Hawks lead the NHL in attendance for the second year in a row and have drawn five straight crowds of more than 21,000.

The show starts with the national anthem and usually ends in a Hawks victory.

"We've done well here," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "It's a fun place to play right from the anthem. You can see the building jam-packed and the crowd into it, and that really helps.

"It's a good motivator and an extra guy on the bench for us as well. We should look to take advantage of the privilege of playing in front of such a great crowd."

The Hawks have done about as well as possible to take advantage of a favorable home schedule the first half of the season, and they hope to continue it Tuesday night when the San Jose Sharks come to town.

The schedule gets more difficult next month when the Hawks play 11 of 15 games on the road, including what is shaping up to be a killer eight-game trip starting Jan. 16.

The Hawks have only played 14 road games and are 7-5-2 away from the UC. But the surest way to win on the road is with defense and goaltending, which has been a strength so far.

Goalie Cristobal Huet (16-7-2) goes for his third straight shutout Tuesday night against the Sharks and has lowered his goals-against average to 2.01.

"The biggest thing I see with him is he's searching for pucks," defenseman Brian Campbell said. "He's searching for pucks everywhere and battling. There's no quit in him ever."

Huet on Monday was named the NHL's first star of the week for his back-to-back shutouts of St. Louis and Detroit, in which he stopped a combined 47 shots.

The last Hawk to be named first star of the week was goaltender Jocelyn Thibault in 2001.

"It's a credit to my teammates for the effort they're putting in every night and the way they're playing in front of me," Huet said.

"He's earning it," Keith said. "It shows you what he's made of, what kind of person he is. Nobody wants to get booed (like Huet was earlier in the season), but he showed a lot of character to come back and play the way he has.

"He's a great goaltender. He's what we need, and he's going to be great for us."

• The Sharks, who played in Dallas on Monday night, certainly will be out to show they are a better team than the one that lost 7-2 to the Hawks on Nov. 25 in San Jose.

"We know they're a good team," Quenneville said. "Both teams are ready when we face each other and you've got to be at your best."

• Left wing Bryan Bickell was assigned to Rockford on Monday but could be recalled Tuesday if Ben Eager can't play.