NHL 2016-17 Central Division preview: Can Blackhawks roll a four-line rotation?

NHL 2016-17 Central Division preview: Can Blackhawks roll a four-line rotation?

CSN Chicago will unveil a preview each day for every Central Division team leading up to the NHL's season-opener. Next up: Chicago Blackhawks.

If there's any team that needed an extended offseason to rest and recharge, it was the Blackhawks.

After capturing three Stanley Cups and appearing in five Conference Finals since 2010, you could argue the toll of playing deep into June almost every year caught up to them in a first-round exit to the St. Louis Blues last postseason.

But it was also the inability to roll four consistent lines while trying to hide a leaky back end of the defense. The latter shouldn't be an issue this year. In fact, it's become their strength.

The Blackhawks' defensive corps from top to bottom is the deepest it's been in years, anchored by two-time Norris Trophy winner Duncan Keith, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Brent Seabrook. The addition of Brian Campbell was arguably the best bargain signing of the offseason, and he immediately slots into a top-four role.

The emergence of Gustav Forsling has given the Blackhawks another weapon on a crowded blue line that is rounded out by Michal Kempny, Trevor van Riemsdyk and Michal Rozsival.

Combine that with Corey Crawford, who was on his way to becoming a Vezina Trophy finalist before a late-season injury deflated his chances, and Scott Darling, the reliable backup who puts a stamp on one of the best goaltending tandems in the league, and it will be difficult for opposing teams to find the back of the net.

[SHOP: Gear up for the 2016-17 season, Blackhawks fans!]

Up front is where the questions will lie all season.

Coach Joel Quenneville will surely be blending his lines even more than he's used to in an effort to find balance.

The line of Artem Anisimov, Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin was one of the most effective units in the NHL last year, controlling 53.41 percent of the even-strength shot attempts when on the ice together. But they could see more time apart if the Blackhawks have trouble distributing the scoring on the other three lines.

Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa will reunite on the top line, but Hossa is expected to take on more of a checking role on the third line with Marcus Kruger so it's only a matter of time when the juggling begins.

It's a top-heavy forward group to start, but that could change over time as prospects such as Ryan Hartman, Vinnie Hinostroza, Tyler Motte and Nick Schmaltz get acclimated to the NHL and will be relied upon to take on larger roles on the fly.

The rejuvenated Blackhawks will certainly be among the top teams in the Central Division and always pose as a serious threat come playoff time. How far they go will depend on how quickly the young guys can gel and help the Blackhawks be a strong four-line team again.

Other previews: Colorado Avalanche | Dallas Stars | Minnesota Wild | Nashville Predators | St. Louis Blues | Winnipeg Jets

Blackhawks edge out Senators in shootout: 'It was really nice to get a win'

Blackhawks edge out Senators in shootout: 'It was really nice to get a win'

It was a rare sight to see the Blackhawks in a shootout on Wednesday night.

It was just the second time this season — and first time at the United Center — that the Blackhawks made it past 3-on-3 overtime. 

The last came on Dec. 2, 2017, a 3-2 shootout loss to the Stars in Dallas. On Wednesday night, the Blackhawks were on the other end, beating the Ottawa Senators 3-2 in a seven-round shootout. Nick Schmaltz netted the game-winner.

"We'll take it," coach Joel Quenneville said. "I thought we had a decent game tonight. Overtime not so good, I liked the shootout victory, Fors made some big saves for us particularly as the game got deeper. Our third was OK, I thought our first two were way better, and overtime we gave up some high quality, some bells were rings for a bit there. But it was nice to see the shootout win."

Patrick Kane had a goal and an assist, recording another multi-point game, his 16th of the season.

"I mean we need every point we can get at this point," Kane said. "There's still belief in this locker room. Obviously we need to go on quite a run and have a big record here down the stretch. But take it a game at a time and nice to get two points."

Anton Forsberg was a big reason the Blackhawks even recorded those two points. The 25-year-old netminder stopped 34 of 36 shots and made a handful of big saves down the stretch.

"It was really nice to get a win for sure," Forsberg said. "I would love to have a lot more wins, but right now just gotta look forward and get as many wins as possible."

Added Quenneville: "I think it was good for him to win a game the way he did. Lot of shots were on the line, as we progressed, got deeper, hitting the point first was big for him and for us and then finding a way to get the extra one was a good win."

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Senators

NBC Sports Chicago

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Senators

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Ottawa Senators 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. Trade chips.

The Blackhawks have reached the point in their season where they have no choice but to become sellers before the Feb. 26 deadline, and we saw that when they traded Michal Kempny to the Washington Capitals on Monday for a conditional third-round pick in 2018. Tommy Wingels could also be an attractive piece for a team looking to fill out their depth.

The Senators will definitely be sellers, and wow do they have some names potentially on the market that can fetch large returns: Derrick Brassard and Mike Hoffman are two players who log top-six minutes on a nightly basis and also have term left on their contract, which is great for teams looking to load up for this year and beyond.

The biggest name to watch, probably in the league altogether, is Erik Karlsson, who could be on the move if a team offers a big enough package for the Senators to pull the trigger now as opposed to in the offseason if they feel him re-signing is a long shot. He was the best defenseman last season, and if a team steps up to get him, they're getting two possible postseason runs out of him.

2. Artem Anisimov's experiment at left wing not working.

Joel Quenneville has tried rekindling the magic between Anisimov, Nick Schmaltz and Patrick Kane as of late, only this time Anisimov is playing the wing and it just hasn't been very effective. The trio was on the ice for each of the two 5-on-5 goals the Kings scored on Monday, and Anisimov completely lost his man on the first one.

It's important to establish a consistent left winger for Schmaltz and Kane, and maybe putting Alex DeBrincat up there is something you consider going forward as part of a long-term solution. Move Anisimov back down as the third-line center to play in more of a defensive role and continue using his big body on power plays for his offensive abilities might be the best bet.

3. Win the special teams battle.

In their last meeting against Ottawa on Jan. 9, the Blackhawks went 4-for-6 on the power play and 4-on-4 on the penalty kill in an 8-2 win. And those are two areas to look out for again.

The Senators own the 28th-ranked power play with a 16.1 percent success rate and 29th-ranked penalty kill with a 74.5 percent success rate. Get ready for another offensive outburst?