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Five things to watch in Rivalry Night doubleheader

NHL.com @NHL

The team in each conference with the most postseason games played since 2008 and the two teams that played the most games against each other over the previous four seasons will be featured in a Wednesday Night Rivalry doubleheader.

Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins (26-12-7) welcome Patrick Kane and the Chicago Blackhawks (29-15-2) to Consol Energy Center in the early game (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN). Each team is within striking distance of first place in its division.

The Penguins and Blackhawks have combined to win the Stanley Cup three times in the past six seasons. The Penguins' 98 postseason games since the start of the 2007-08 season lead the NHL, and the Blackhawks' 94 are third (tops in the Western Conference).

The Los Angeles Kings (20-14-12) and San Jose Sharks (24-17-6) will play for the 44th time since the start of the 2010-11 season in the back half of the doubleheader (10:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN). San Jose has won 22 of 43 games, but Los Angeles has won two of the three playoff series, each in the past two seasons and in seven games.

Here are five things to watch during the doubleheader:

1. Kane leads United States-born players with 51 points in 46 games. He scored his 200th career goal and had two assists in a 6-1 win against the Arizona Coyotes on Tuesday.

Not only does Kane lead all Americans in points since his arrival in the League, he's been remarkably consistent on the U.S. leaderboard. He's led his countrymen in points twice, in 2009-10 and 2012-13, and tied for the lead with Ryan Kesler in 2011-12. More impressive, he's never finished lower than third. He's scoring goals (0.47) and points (1.07) at the second-best rates of his career, topped only by his those during the shortened 2012-13 season.

2. When the calendar reached the end of 2014, Crosby was in a slump. Well, a slump by his standard. The Penguins captain had two goals and a lot of assists in November (16) but two goals and not a lot of assists in December (three).

Crosby's shooting percentage was on pace to be a career low, but that's changed pretty quickly in 2015. He has four goals and 13 points in eight January games, pushing him back into the chase for another scoring title. His shooting percentage is still lower than any season except for 2011-12, when he was limited to 22 games because of injury. It's a good bet that it will continue to rise and Crosby will continue to rack up points at a high level in the second half of the season.

3. An injury to Kings goalie Martin Jones could mean even more work than usual for Jonathan Quick, who has struggled a bit of late. Quick was off to a great start this season, looking like a Vezina Trophy candidate.

The Kings look more like their usual puck-possessing, shot-dominating selves, but Quick and Jones have not played at the levels expected of them. Quick has been better the past two games, making 50 saves on 54 shots in post-regulation losses to the Anaheim Ducks and Calgary Flames.

Logan Couture
Center - SJS
GOALS: 16 | ASST: 23 | PTS: 39
SOG: 147 | +/-: 1
4. Logan Couture is anchoring San Jose's second line and playing more than 19 minutes per game, which would be a career high. He's scoring at a career-best rate (0.83 points per game) and could be a key figure if the Sharks are going to have success against the Kings.

Los Angeles won the Stanley Cup last season in part because of forward depth, but losing Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli to injury has eroded that. The Sharks had the top-level talent to compete with the Kings last season, but Los Angeles' depth was a factor as the series went on. If Anze Kopitar and Joe Thornton spend a lot of time matched up against each other, it could be up to Couture's line to win a matchup for the Sharks.

5. The Sharks and Kings are used to seeing each other in the postseason, but each team has plenty of work left to do to get there. San Jose is one point out of second place in the Pacific Division, but two points from being outside the top eight in the West.

That is where Los Angeles resides, one point behind the Calgary Flames for the final playoff spot after losing to the Flames in overtime Monday.

These teams have developed a real distaste for each other. Players from each side admitted during their seven-game playoff series last season that this rivalry has contempt to go along with geography and familiarity. Each side needs the points, and that is likely to heighten the intensity as well.

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