Blackhawks

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks go for third straight win vs. Panthers

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Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks go for third straight win vs. Panthers

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Florida Panthers tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. Can Patrick Kane build off two-point performance?

For the first time since 2009, Kane had gone four straight games without a point and it was almost five but he recorded two assists in the third period of Sunday's 3-1 victory over the Arizona Coyotes.

It was important for his line overall to get going again, and they did just that Sunday when Artem Anisimov scored the go-ahead goal and Nick Schmaltz added some insurance, with Kane assisting on both of those goals.

The Panthers rank dead last in goals against, so there's an opportunity for Kane and Co. to build some momentum on offense.

2. Power play breakout?

Alright, here's your chance. The Blackhawks have scored only one power-play goal in their last 17 tries, and have slipped to 29th overall in that area but are welcoming a Panthers team that ranks among the bottom 5 in penalty kill percentage.

The Blackhawks just haven't been able to get anything going with the man advantage, whether it's net front presence, quality shots or failed entries. Not scoring isn't necessarily a bad thing, but when it's two minutes of nothing, it can be a momentum killer. Fixing that is Step 1.

3. Another big night vs. Florida for top line?

The last time the Blackhawks played the Panthers, the first line of Jonathan Toews, Brandon Saad and Richard Panik absolutely dominated in a 4-1 win on Nov. 25. Toews and Saad each scored a goal and had multi-point efforts, which at the time were breakouts for a couple of struggling players.

Alex DeBrincat has joined those two on the first line, and that trio has been solid early on. The chemistry has been noticeable, and it should only get stronger the more they play together and figure out each other's tendencies.

Why Vinnie Hinostroza has been a hidden gem for Blackhawks

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Why Vinnie Hinostroza has been a hidden gem for Blackhawks

When looking back on the 2017-18 season, it's easy to single out Alex DeBrincat and Nick Schmaltz as the two most notable silver linings for the Blackhawks, both of whom showed real promise as important pieces going forward.

But lost in the shuffle — or quietly flying under the radar — has been Vinnie Hinostroza, in part because he started the year in the American Hockey League with the Rockford IceHogs when he probably didn't deserve to.

"Obviously I wanted to start off the year here, but going down there, I knew that if I played well I'd be back up here and that's what they told me leaving camp," Hinostroza said. "I got to go down there, play a lot of minutes, play in every situation. I learned a lot and I think it helped my game."

It was perhaps more-so a numbers game, and Hinostroza was a guy the Blackhawks could send to Rockford without having to go through the waiver process. It also wasn't the worst thing for his long-term development.

Not surprisingly, Hinostroza flourished with the IceHogs by averaging nearly a point-per-game with nine goals and 13 assists in 23 games. He was more than ready to be promoted.

It just took a while because the Blackhawks were carrying the maximum amount of skaters (23) and there weren't any injuries to open up a spot.

Eventually, the Blackhawks decided they couldn't ignore his offensive production any longer and placed Tanner Kero on waivers — which he cleared — to make room for Hinostroza, who was recalled on Dec. 8.

And when he finally got his chance with the big club, Hinostroza took advantage.

He set career-highs in all three scoring categories with seven goals and 18 assists for 25 points in 50 games despite having only two points in the final 15 contests.

The underlying numbers supported his value, too.

When Hinostroza was on the ice at even strength, the Blackhawks controlled 54.57 percent of the shot attempts and had a high-danger Goals For percentage of 58.33, according to naturalstattrick.com.

He also had a points-per-60 minutes rate of 1.98 during 5-on-5 play; only Patrick Kane had a higher one (2.16) on the Blackhawks.

Hinostroza did all this while bouncing around from the first line to the fourth line, meaning it gave Joel Quenneville the luxury to put him anywhere and expect his offensive production to stay the same. His versatility in that sense, along with being able to play any of the three forward positions, makes him a valuable piece of this club.

The Blackhawks know that, and envision him as part of the long-term picture. Not bad for the Bartlett native who was taken in the sixth round (169th overall) in 2012 by his hometown team.

"I want to make it clear our No. 1 priority as we move forward is to make sure we can keep these young players — DeBrincat and Schmaltz and Hinostroza and some other young players that are going to maybe join our team over the next year or two," GM Stan Bowman said. "That's the direction that we're headed, and we want those guys to be Blackhawks and to take a bigger role."

Patrick Sharp to serve as guest NHL analyst for NBC Sports' Stanley Cup Playoff coverage

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USA TODAY

Patrick Sharp to serve as guest NHL analyst for NBC Sports' Stanley Cup Playoff coverage

Despite announcing his retirement from the NHL this season, Patrick Sharp insisted he's not going anywhere.

And he won't be.

The three-time Stanley Cup champion with the Blackhawks will be serving as a guest analyst on NHL Live tonight and Wednesday during NBC Sports' first-round Stanley Cup Playoff coverage, appearing on the pregame show at 5:30 p.m., breaking down the intermissions of Blue Jackets vs. Capitals and Jets vs. Wild.

Sharp will join Liam McHugh, Mike Milbury and Jeremy Roenick for Columbus-Washington and Kathryn Tappen, Anson Carter and Roenick for Winnipeg-Minnesota.

Perhaps we're seeing a little glimpse of what Sharp's future post-playing career could hold?