Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks look to end skid vs. Oilers


Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks look to end skid vs. Oilers

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Edmonton Oilers Friday night on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. Who will step up in Artem Anisimov's absence?

After suffering an upper-body injury in the first period of Thursday's 5-2 loss to the Vancouver Canucks, it doesn't sound like the veteran center will be ready to play tonight in Edmonton. In his absence last night, Nick Schmaltz went from left wing to center on the second line while David Kampf and Tommy Wingels continued to center the third and fourth lines, respectively.

Against a quick Oilers team and his ability to play any of the three forward positions, it's probably more likely Vinnie Hinostroza draws back into the lineup over Richard Panik, although it's also possible there could be more than one lineup change. The opportunity for somebody to step up in a big way is there, but will anybody take it, and if so, who?

2. One captain heating up, another trying to end a drought.

Jonathan Toews was one of the best forwards on the ice against Vancouver, with the Blackhawks registering 19 shot attempts for and only six against when he was on the ice at 5-on-5, but he failed to get on the scoresheet for the fifth straight contest. It's his longest point drought of the season, and it's not a coincidence that the Blackhawks have lost three in a row during that stretch either.

Meanwhile, Connor McDavid hasn't gone more than a game this season without recording at least a point, and he's coming in on a three-game point streak (two goals, three assists). He assisted on both goals in Edmonton's first meeting against the Blackhawks, a 2-1 overtime win at the United Center on Oct. 19. He also gave us maybe the highlight of the year with one of the prettiest assists you'll ever see.

3. Oilers getting healthy.

Since Cam Talbot returned from injury, the Oilers have won four of their last five games and they're starting to get healthy on the back end as well. 

Adam Larsson started the month on injured reserve with an upper-body injury but returned Dec. 18 and has played in four games since being activated.

Andrej Sekera made his season debut last week after spending the past six-plus months recovering from an ACL injury he suffered in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs in May.

And Oscar Klefbom, who has missed three games with a nagging shoulder injury, is expected to return tonight, meaning the Oilers will be at full strength on the blue line for the first time all season. Exactly what the Blackhawks couldn't afford to run into as they look to snap a three-game losing streak.

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks hit road to face Blue Jackets

NBC Sports Chicago

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks hit road to face Blue Jackets

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Columbus Blue Jackets 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. One big reunion.

The Blackhawks will square off with the Blue Jackets for the first time since Oct. 7, which was the second game of the season. In that game, they won 5-1 led by Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Brandon Saad, each of whom scored a goal and added an assist.

Of course, that was the first game since the offseason trade that sent Artemi Panarin to Columbus and Saad back to Chicago, along with Anton Forsberg. Artem Anisimov, of course, was part of the original deal that sent Saad to Columbus in 2015, so there are a lot of emotional ties between the two teams.

Forsberg didn't get a chance to face the Blue Jackets in the first meeting, but there's a chance he will this time with it being the second of a back-to-back and Jean-Francois Berube getting the start in Friday's 3-1 win over San Jose.

2. Panarin and Kane bromance.

The emotions of a difficult break-up have probably died down by now, but Panarin and Kane gave us this moment at center ice during pregame warmups in their first game against each other and it hit Chicago right in the feels:

Panarin has spent enough time apart from Kane for people to realize how big of a star he is in his own right, leading the Blue Jackets in all three scoring categories: goals (17), assists (32) and points (49).

He hasn't gone more than three games this season without recording a point, and is looking to extend his point streak to four games, which would tie a season high.

3. Struggling Blue Jackets special teams.

The Blue Jackets got off to a great start but are barely clinging onto a wild card spot going into Saturday's game, and a big reason for that slide is their lack of success on special teams. Usually one can pick up the slack for the other, but they've been brutal in both departments.

The Blue Jackets are 0-for-9 on the power play in their past five games and are ranked 31st overall, converting on only 14.1 percent of their opportunities. They also have own the 27th-ranked penalty kill with a 76.3 percent success rate.

So if there's an area the Blackhawks can exploit, it's that. But, you know, still be mindful of that Russian winger's one-timer from the faceoff circle.

Jean-Francois Berube impressed in his first Blackhawks start


Jean-Francois Berube impressed in his first Blackhawks start

Jean-Francois Berube got his first start of the season on Friday night, and it couldn't have gone any better.

The 26-year-old goaltender stopped 42 of 43 shots, a career-high for him in saves, in the Blackhawks' 3-1 win over the San Jose Sharks at the United Center.

Since Corey Crawford went down with a head injury last December, the Blackhawks have been searching for consistency in the crease. 

The pair of Anton Forsberg and Jeff Glass — who was assigned to Rockford on Feb. 15 and replaced with Berube — have had their ups and downs since then. With the Blackhawks out of the playoff picture, Berube had an opportunity showcase his skills, and he didn't disappoint.

"We were very happy with him," said coach Joel Quenneville. "I thought he did a great job. He was comfortable. I thought he was very patient in his net. Absorbing a lot of pucks with people in front of him was good. Closed some gaps and got … of the top of the paint. Rebound control was effective. Nice response from a long absence."

Berube's last — and only — appearance with the Blackhawks prior to Friday's game came on Dec. 6, relieving Forsberg in a game against the Washington Capitals. He recorded 12 saves of 14 shots. 

When Crawford got injured, Berube was the primary candidate to become the team's backup goaltender. The only problem? He was injured too, so the Blackhawks promoted Glass.

"I didn't want to sit and think about it," Berube said of his injury. "At the same time, it was great for Glasser. He was one of those guys that probably deserved it earlier in his career and he finally got his chance. Sometimes you need a guy to go down to have your chance. So I was mostly happy for him.

On Friday night, he got his chance.

"You always want to have a good impression for your first game," Berube said. "I know what I can do at this level, so it was just a matter of getting the opportunity to play and showing people what I can do."

Celebrating his 22nd birthday, Nick Schmaltz also had a goal and an assist. Artem Anisimov scored an empty-netter.

"It's a lot more fun coming to the rink when you're winning, enjoying each other, playing well as a team," Schmaltz said of the Blackhawks' win, which have now won three of their last four games. "Hopefully we can keep that good energy and bring it to the rink every day, and build off of that.

"You never know where this team can go, a lot of great players, lots of guys that have had a lot of success. Hopefully we can continue to put together solid efforts."