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Sharks try to cool off Blackhawks

by Brian Hedger

SHARKS (26-10-6) at BLACKHAWKS (29-7-8)


Last 10: San Jose 6-4-0; Chicago 6-1-3

Season series: The Chicago Blackhawks won the first of three games against the San Jose Sharks with a 5-1 victory Nov. 17 at United Center. After this game, the teams will play once more, on Feb. 1 at SAP Center.

Big story: The defending Stanley Cup champions have at least a point in nine straight games, a season-high mark during an outstanding season. Chicago leads the NHL standings with 66 points and has yet to lose in regulation when scoring the first goal (23-0-5). San Jose is coming off a disappointing 4-3 loss in regulation against the Colorado Avalanche in Denver on Saturday afternoon and failed to gain ground on the Anaheim Ducks (65 points), whom the Sharks trail by seven points for the Pacific Division lead.

Team Scope:

Sharks: San Jose nearly pulled off an impressive comeback against the Avalanche on Saturday after giving up the game's first four goals. The Sharks scored twice in the second period and once in the third, but couldn't pull even despite a late power play that provided several golden scoring chances.

Coach Todd McLellan replaced starting goalie Antti Niemi with Alex Stalock after the third Colorado goal, scored by Erik Johnson with a wrist shot 5:45 into the second. Stalock then let in the fourth goal -- rookie Nathan MacKinnon's second of the game -- to make it 4-0 just 14 seconds later.

"I didn't like the third goal; It has to be stopped," McLellan said, "and I didn't like the fourth goal. It has to be stopped. I've gone after our team in the new year, gone after them very [aggressively] and I've tried to hold them accountable, and the goaltenders are part of that. We can't keep going to the forwards or the D-men [for blame]."

Since breaking out of a slump with a four-game winning streak in games sandwiched around Christmas break, San Jose is 1-2-0 in its past three games.

Blackhawks: Pick a statistic and odds are Chicago has a pristine mark to go with it. Even the much-maligned penalty-kill numbers are on the rise; the Blackhawks have killed off 26 of their past 29 shorthanded situations (89.6 percent).

On the flip side, Chicago is ranked third in the NHL on the power play (24.3 percent) and leads the League with 165 goals, 15 more than the second-ranked St. Louis Blues.

"Our top guys this year have been real good," Blackhawks coach Joe Quenneville said following a 5-3 road victory against the New Jersey Devils on Friday night that bumped Chicago's record to 8-0-3 in the second game of back-to-back sets. "They've led the charge and put is in the right spot a lot of nights, but that was our biggest factor [against the Devils]. Our top guys were great."

Who's hot: San Jose's Logan Couture has scored a goal in four straight games and Patrick Marleau has recorded at least a point in three straight. … Patrick Sharp, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith are red-hot for the Blackhawks. Sharp notched his second hat trick in a week in the victory at New Jersey; Kane had an assist to give him eight goals and 26 points in his past 17 games. Keith had three assists to give him 39 for the season.

Injury report: San Jose forward Tommy Wingels (upper body) was placed on injured reserve prior to the game Saturday, while forward Tim Kennedy (flu) didn't play. Forwards Raffi Torres (knee), Adam Burish (lower body), Tomas Hertl (knee) and Martin Havlat (lower body) are also on injured reserve. … Goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin (lower body) is the lone Blackhawks player on injured reserve.

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