November 09, 2014

The NHL's hard salary cap has forced plenty of turnover on the Chicago Blackhawks' roster since they won the 2009-10 Stanley Cup, and this past offseason was no different.

Artem Anisimov and rookie Artemi Panarin haven't had any trouble fitting into the winning culture.

The Western Conference-leading Blackhawks begin a four-game homestand against the San Jose Sharks looking to win an eighth straight at the United Center on Tuesday night.

Chicago (36-16-4) again was forced to say goodbye to plenty of key contributors who helped it secure its third championship in six seasons in 2014-15, with Brandon Saad being the most notable subtraction.

The Blackhawks have reloaded rather than rebuilt in previous years, though, and were able to land Anisimov in the trade that sent Saad to Columbus. He has 18 goals centering a line with NHL leading scorer Patrick Kane and Panarin, who came over from Russia on a one-year deal that reportedly was worth less money than what other teams had offered.

That group has been one of the league's most effective led by Kane, whose 76 points are 12 short of his career high set in 2009-10. Panarin's 52 points lead all NHL rookies by a large margin.

Kane scored, Anisimov had a short-handed goal and three assists and Panarin had two assists in Saturday's 5-1 rout at Dallas.

"That line has been the top line for our team, top line in our league," coach Joel Quenneville said. "They play both side of the puck and I like the way they keep it and protect it. They can wow you with some plays. They all do a little bit something different, but they're all high-end guys who usually do something every night for us."

The Blackhawks swept a three-game road trip following the All-Star Game after dropping three of four heading into the break. They're five points ahead of the Stars for the West lead and have the second-most points in the league behind Washington.

"Did I see us being in the position we're in now (at the beginning of the season)? I would've been very optimistic thinking like that," Quenneville said. "I really like the way it's progressed. We're coming off two really good months, good start (to February), so let's keep going."

Chicago now gets to enjoy a home stretch after playing only two of its previous 11 at the United Center. The Blackhawks have a league-high 21 home victories, including a 4-3 overtime win over San Jose in the most recent meeting Dec. 20.

Jonathan Toews scored the winner and also had a goal in a 5-2 win in the first matchup Nov. 25, when Kane and Panarin had two assists apiece.

The Sharks (27-20-4) enter this meeting as one of the league's best road teams at 17-8-2, but it will be trying to split a four-game trip after falling 6-2 to Nashville on Saturday.

Joe Thornton and Logan Couture scored for San Jose, which is still 9-2-2 since Jan. 9 despite the struggles on this trip.

"During the season, you're going to have some nights like that," coach Peter DeBoer said. "We've got to get in the goalie's eyes a little bit more."

Martin Jones had a rough night after posting a 1.97 goals-against average over his previous 10. He's allowed four goals in both meetings with the Blackhawks this season.

Corey Crawford, who has won four straight against the Sharks, will get the start for Chicago. He has a 1.59 GAA and all of his league-leading seven shutouts in 24 home starts this season.

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