The Chicago Blackhawks are enjoying their best stretch of the season.
Getting last season’s leading scorer back after a lengthy absence doesn’t figure to slow them down.
With Patrick Sharp expected to return, the Blackhawks aim for their longest winning streak in nearly two years Tuesday night against the New Jersey Devils.
Chicago (18-8-1) is again among the best teams in the league, and has certainly looked like it while scoring 40 goals during a 9-1-0 stretch.
The Blackhawks have a 22-9 scoring advantage during a six-game winning streak after beating Nashville 3-1 in the opener of this four-game trip Saturday.
Coach Joel Quenneville, though, is tempering any enthusiasm with his team second in the tight Central Division — one point behind St. Louis and one ahead of the Predators.
“We shouldn’t be satisfied,” he said. “We should be looking to improve off these levels which would make us a good team.”
On the verge of its first seven-game winning streak since April 6-19, 2013, Chicago should get a big boost with Sharp’s expected return after missing 14 games with a lower-body injury.
“Looking like a good chance. We’re expecting him to play,” Quenneville said. “It gives us some options, helps our power play and it’s good to get him back playing as well.”
Sharp, who led the Blackhawks with 34 goals and a career-high 78 points last season, has three goals and six assists in 13 games in 2014-15.
Sharp’s timing couldn’t be any better since he scored half of Chicago’s 10 goals last season during a two-game season sweep of the Devils. That includes his fourth career hat trick in a 5-3 win in Newark on Jan. 3.
Duncan Keith had three assists in that matchup, and he’s totaled eight points in his past 10 games overall.
Brandon Saad has three goals and two assists in four games, tallying one of each against Nashville. The left wing had three points against New Jersey (11-13-4) last season.
With Corey Crawford still out with an injured leg, the Blackhawks will again turn to rookie Scott Darling in net. He made 32 saves Saturday after being recalled from Rockford of the AHL for the third time this season last week, improving to 3-1 with a 1.73 goals-against average on the season.
The Devils have dropped three straight at home (0-2-1), but they have a chance to win for the third time in four games overall after Cory Schneider made 17 of his 39 saves in the third period Monday in a 2-1 victory at Carolina.
“(We were) hanging on, but I don’t care at this point,” coach Peter DeBoer told the team’s official website. “We just need points.”
Getting Michael Cammalleri — the team leader with 11 goals — back would help. A pulled muscle forced him to sit out against the Hurricanes.
Jaromir Jagr had a goal and an assist Monday in his 1,500th NHL game. He moved into fifth place on the career points list with 1,772, passing Marcel Dionne.
“I play a lot of games,” Jagr said. “I try to stay healthy. That’s what it takes.”
Schneider hasn’t fared very well against the Blackhawks, going 2-2-1 with a 3.44 GAA in six regular-season appearances. He’s lost his last three home starts overall behind a 3.30 GAA.