It will be a clash of two recent Stanley Cup winners, but Sunday's game between the Chicago Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins at PPG Paints Arena finds the teams in much different places.
Chicago (15-21-7) is still trying to find its footing just past the midpoint of its season, while Pittsburgh (23-12-6) is basking in quite a groove.
"We're a team right now that's trying to find a way … to keep ourselves in games," Blackhawks winger Patrick Kane told the Chicago Tribune after a 3-2 overtime loss Friday against the Islanders in New York.
That was the Blackhawks' third loss in five games. They are on the distasteful side of .500 and the playoff cutoff and are struggling in several areas. For example, their penalty kill ranks last in the NHL and has given up five goals in 16 chances over the past five games.
With goaltender Corey Crawford out with a concussion, rookie Collin Delia has been a capable fill-in for Chicago. He is 3-0-1 with a .952 save percentage and a 2.00 goals-against average since being recalled from Rockford of the American Hockey League in December. He fended off 47 of 50 shots against the Islanders.
"I feel good, but there's a lot of progression that needs to happen on my part," Delia said. "I need to really take a hard look in the mirror and see what I need to do better and be more disciplined with my game."
That last sentiment might apply to the Blackhawks in general.
Coach Jeremy Colliton saw a lack of a finishing drive in the loss to the Islanders.
"We could have come away with two (points), but … we'll have to be better," Colliton said. "On the road, sometimes, it's not pretty. Would love our team to be at the point where you realize we're fortunate to be (tied) 2-2 and we find a way to finish it off. We're not there yet."
Chicago, which had won three away games in a row before Friday, will be back on the road Sunday against a team that has been finishing well - and starting well and doing all the things between.
Pittsburgh has won eight straight and 10 of its past 11 games, most recently a 4-0 win Friday over Winnipeg, to surge into a points tie with Washington atop the Metropolitan Division.
The Penguins are getting scoring from up and down their roster, including 11 goals from nine players over their past two games.
"It's critical to the team's success," coach Mike Sullivan said. "You look at the success that this team has had over the last few years, a lot of it is through the balance of attack, the depth of the team through all positions."
Pittsburgh's surge has helped to erase a poor November that saw the team in last place in the Eastern Conference for a brief time. The win over Winnipeg brought the Penguins to the halfway point of their schedule.
"We understand that we have a long ways to go, and the bounces aren't always going to go our way, so it's important that we have our game in order," forward Matt Cullen said.
The Penguins' power play could be a strong test for Chicago's sagging penalty kill. Pittsburgh is 9-for-13 with a man-advantage over the past five games, with at least one such goal in each of those games.
Pittsburgh's win over Winnipeg left it 13-3-1 against the Western Conference.
Updated January 6, 2019