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Blackhawks host surging Sharks

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Chicago has picked up at least one point in its last two games.

NHL: San Jose Sharks at Chicago Blackhawks David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

For the first time since mid-November, the Chicago Blackhawks earned points in multiple games with a win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday and an overtime loss to the Winnipeg Jets on Friday. The Blackhawks will look to move that streak to three at the United Center on Sunday night when they host the San Jose Sharks.

A popular preseason pick for a run at the Stanley Cup, San Jose faltered out of the gate, losing four of their first six games of the 2018-19 season. San Jose rebounded around Halloween but hit another slump after Thanksgiving, dropping four straight. It’s been trending back in a positive direction over the last six games, though, with San Jose winning five of them, including a 3-2 win over the Dallas Stars on Thursday night — the Sharks’ most recent game.

In a surprising development, it’s youngster Timo Meier tied atop the Sharks scoring list. In Meier’s second season, he had 36 points in 81 games. After scoring twice in San Jose’s aforementioned win over Dallas, Meier is now tied with Logan Couture for the team lead at 32 points, and his 18 goals are just shy of Joe Pavelski’s team-leading 20.

On the blue line, massive offseason acquisition Erik Karlsson has not disappointed, notching 21 points in his 33 games while logging an average of 24:35 of ice time per night. Brent Burns lead the blue-liners with 27 assists and 31 points while averaging 23:33 of ice time. Marc-Edouard Vlasic remains a strong defender, giving San Jose a deep blue line.

Where the numbers are lacking a touch for the Sharks has been in net. Starter Martin Jones and backup Aaron Dell both sport a save percentage of .901, with Jones’ 2.83 goals-against average only marginally better than Dell’s 2.89.

From a strictly possession standpoint, the Sharks are thriving. Just look at how many of their players occupy the “good” quadrant, as detailed in this shot rates chart from Sean Tierney:

Combine those possession numbers with an xGF% that’s returned to the positive side of the ledger after a brief dive under water earlier this month, and it’s not hard to comprehend why the Sharks are rising towards the surface of the Pacific Division standings.

Chicago’s been trending upward over the last few games as well, with one of its better performances of the season against Pittsburgh and a worthy challenge to Winnipeg in Friday’s overtime defeat. Depth scoring was vital against the Penguins but the stars are still leading the way. Jonathan Toews has six points in his last two games, while Patrick Kane has seven points in this last six games and has been held off the scoresheet only twice in the last 11 games. Connor Murphy’s return also appears to have provided some stability to the blue line, albeit in a limited sample. Against a San Jose team that is certainly not lacking in offensive firepower, the blue line’s in-zone coverage will again be tested. But the forwards may be even more crucial in defensive responsibilities, given the offensive instincts of San Jose defensemen like Burns and Karlsson.

Projected lines

Blackhawks

Saad — Toews — Kahun

DeBrincat — Strome — Kane

Sikura — Kampf — Perlini

Hayden — Kruger — Martinsen

Keith — Jokiharju

Seabrook — Gustafsson

Dahlstrom — Murphy

Crawford

Ward

Sharks

Hertl — Couture — Meier

Kane — Pavelski — Donskoi

Sorensen — Thornton — LaBanc

Goodrow — Radil — Karlsson

Dillon — Karlsson

Simek — Burns

Vlasic — Braun

Jones

Dell

How to watch

Time: 6 p.m.

Location: United Center, Chicago

TV: NBC Sports Chicago, NHL Network