Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks hit road to face Maple Leafs


Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks hit road to face Maple Leafs

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Toronto Maple Leafs tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. Who will step up in Nick Schmaltz's absence?

The Blackhawks will likely be without Schmaltz (upper-body injury) during their mini two-game road trip in Canada, meaning they'll have a gap to fill at the second-line center position. Given his familiarity with Patrick Kane from the previous two seasons, Artem Anisimov is the obvious candidate to step into that role.

But the bottom six gets dicey after that. Tanner Kero, who missed Saturday's game with an injury, will probably return to the lineup and perhaps may move up to center the third line alongside Alex DeBrincat and Patrick Sharp, with Tommy Wingels staying on the fourth in between Lance Bouma and John Hayden.

It will certainly need to be a collective effort though to replace what Schmaltz brings to the table offensively.

2. Two high-powered offenses.

Nobody has scored more goals through two games than the Blackhawks and Maple Leafs, both of whom lead the league with 15 goals. In fact, the third-highest scoring team is Washington with 11.

There's fire power all over the ice, and it's a fun early matchup between a team that has three Stanley Cups in the salary cap era and a team that could become a powerhouse over the next decade.

Which offense will slow down first?

3. Third line could be difference.

What has made these two teams dangerous in the early going is their ability to score from anywhere up and down the lineup. The Maple Leafs' third line, particularly, of Patrick Marleau, Nazem Kadri and Leo Komarov has combined for five goals and five assists.

The Blackhawk's top six has dominated in two games, but they'll need help from their bottom six to stay in the win column, especially with Schmaltz out.

The pros and cons of reuniting Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews on Blackhawks top line


The pros and cons of reuniting Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews on Blackhawks top line

Jonathan Toews' offense usually comes in spurts. We're seeing it again right now.

But it's no coincidence his numbers have spiked since Patrick Kane joined him on the top line.

After recording another two points in Saturday's 5-3 loss to the Buffalo Sabres, the Blackhawks captain has 11 points (four goals, seven assists) in his past eight games; he had 11 points in his previous 23 games total.

Toews also reached the 20-goal mark for the 11th straight season, joining Kane and Alex Ovechkin as the only three active players to accomplish that feat to open their NHL careers.

Kane has seen his offensive production pick up, too. He has 16 points (four goals, 12 assists) in his past 13 games after going five straight without one, which was his longest point drought of the season.

When the two of them are on the ice together at even strength, they control 57.9 percent of the shot attempts. It hasn't quite translated on the scoresheet (14 goals for and 17 goals against) maybe the way it should, but they are certainly spending far more time in the offensive zone than the defensive end and are generating a high volume of shots.

So yes, reuniting the dynamic duo has worked stats-wise.

But it comes at a cost:

— Vinnie Hinostroza and Nick Schmaltz haven't scored in six straight contests.

— Alex DeBrincat's season-long goal drought is up to 13 games.

— Artem Anisimov's last even-strength goal came nine games ago.

When you put Kane and Toews together, you risk losing some balance across the lineup and that's why Joel Quenneville has always been reluctant to go to that nuclear option. He prefers when opposing teams are forced to play 'Pick Your Poison.'

Ideally, you'd like to spread out the scoring, but one thing is for certain: The Blackhawks are better when Kane and Toews are each producing offensively, whether they're apart or together. 

When the wins start to dry up though — and they have — that's normally when it's time to try something different.

Perhaps more importantly, the last thing you want are those scoring droughts mentioned above to stretch even further and get inside the younger skaters' heads, then carrying it with them into the offseason.

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: Has the championship window closed?


Blackhawks Talk Podcast: Has the championship window closed?

On the latest Hawks Talk Podcast, Jonathan Toews sits down with Pat Boyle for a 1-on-1 interview. Toews weighs in on his season with Brandon Saad, whether he expects major changes this offseason and has the championship window closed?

Also, Adam Burish joins the podcast and plays the game: “Building block, not sure, or no thanks.” Burish runs down the Blackhawks forwards and predicts whether or not they have a future with the team.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below: