CHICAGO – The Pittsburgh Penguins might not know the exact numbers, but it comes as no surprise to them that Chicago Blackhawks right wing Marian Hossa is sizzling right now.
Hossa, 36, has seven goals and one assist in the past four games for the Blackhawks, who play host the Penguins at United Center on Sunday (12:30 p.m. ET, NBC, TVA, City). The former Penguins forward, who helped Pittsburgh make it to the 2008 Stanley Cup Final, nearly scored an eighth in Chicago's 3-1 victory Friday against the New Jersey Devils.
Goalie Cory Schneider made a save on Hossa's shot but it quickly became an assist when Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews – who centers Hossa's line – put the rebound into the net for a 2-1 lead in the third period.
Toews has two assists to go with that goal in the past four games and left wing Brandon Saad has two goals and three assists in the previous five game for the Blackhawks' top line combination.
"You get yourself in trouble if you try and do too much while they're on the ice," Penguins coach Mike Johnston said after practice in Chicago on Saturday. "You've got to manage the puck. I thought their line was really dangerous [Friday]. Hossa was really skating. They're the type of team, though, with their depth and the way their [defensemen] play, you've got to make sure like we did last time we played them that in all areas of the game we defend well."
The Blackhawks beat the Penguins 3-2 in a shootout in the only other game between the two this season. That game was at Consol Energy Center on Jan. 21 in the final game for each team heading into the All-Star break.
Hossa had a goal and an assist in that game, as well.
"If we defend well, we'll get our offensive chances, but we have to defend well," Johnston said. "That has to be our mindset."
He doesn't mean just the top line for the Blackhawks either. The second line is led by right wing Patrick Kane, who has 63 points (27 goals) to lead the NHL in scoring. Kane's line is centered by skilled veteran Brad Richards (nine goals, 21 assists) and has Kris Versteeg (28 points in 36 games) at left wing.
"It's always a challenge [facing Kane]," Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said. "You've always got to keep your eye on him to see where he's at, and for a goalie he's very unpredictable. It's tough to know what he's going to do, but I think we did alright against him last game, so we'll try to do the same thing."
Chicago should have a few concerns of its own with Penguins captain Sidney Crosby (19 goals, 39 assists) centering Pittsburgh's top line and Evgeni Malkin (21 goals, 32 assists) in the middle of the second forward group.
Crosby scored two goals and Malkin had one in the Penguins' 5-4 shootout win at the Ottawa Senators on Thursday, so they're not exactly cold. They were also without five lineup regulars the first time they faced Chicago, including Malkin and defenseman Kris Letang.
All are expected to play Sunday, so the Blackhawks will also need a strong effort to extend their string of games with a point to six.
"It's a good team coming in," Kane said. "They're playing well right now and a different team than we faced before the All-Star break with a couple players coming back. It'll be a good test."
Neither team held a morning skate, but both held practices Saturday in Chicago.
The Blackhawks could get veteran defenseman Michal Rozsival back after he missed the previous game with an upper-body injury, while Pittsburgh will again be without defenseman Christian Ehrhoff – who didn't take contact in practice Saturday and skated on his own Sunday morning.
Penguins defenseman Paul Martin didn't practice Saturday because of an undisclosed injury, but will play. Goalie Corey Crawford will start for Chicago and Marc-Andre Fleury will start for Pittsburgh.
Here are the projected lineups:
Chris Kunitz – Sidney Crosby – David Perron
Blake Comeau – Evgeni Malkin – Patric Hornqvist
Nick Spaling – Brandon Sutter – Beau Bennett
Craig Adams – Maxim Lapierre – Steve Downie
Paul Martin – Kris Letang
Robert Bortuzzo - Derrick Pouliot
Rob Scuderi – Simon Despres
Scratched: Zach Sill
Injured: Christian Ehrhoff (concussion), Olli Maata (upper body), Pascal Dupuis (blood clot)
Brandon Saad – Jonathan Toews – Marian Hossa
Kris Versteeg – Brad Richards – Patrick Kane
Bryan Bickell – Andrew Shaw – Ryan Hartman
Patrick Sharp – Marcus Kruger – Daniel Carcillo
Johnny Oduya – Niklas Hjalmarsson
Duncan Keith – Michal Rozsival
Kyle Cumiskey – Brent Seabrook
Scratched: Ben Smith, David Rundblad, Tim Erixon
Injured: Trevor van Riemsdyk (fractured knee cap)
Status report: Erixon practiced Saturday after missing the three previous days with a lower-body injury. … Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said Hartman, a rookie from the Chicago area, will play his second NHL game. That most likely means either Ben Smith or Daniel Carcillo will be a healthy scratch.
Who's hot: Crosby has four goals and three assists in the past seven games, while Letang has a 12 points (one goal) in nine games since sitting out against the Blackhawks. … Kane has five goals and seven assists in the past nine games.