Blackhawks

Oduya 'makes plays forwards can dream of'

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Oduya 'makes plays forwards can dream of'

Patrick Kane was talking about the Blackhawks defense against the Ottawa Senators on Friday night when the compliment to its newest member came.

This (Johnny) Oduya can make plays that forwards can dream of, Kane said. Coming up the ice with speed, he jumps in; he seems to be real smooth and fits in perfect with our team. Hes another guy who can jump in the play. Its nice to have a guy like that; it adds a little more balance with our D.

Yes, its only been two games for Oduya, but the Blackhawks are appreciating what hes bringing. Oduya has provided speed, veteran presence and solid minutes for a Blackhawks team that needed it.

Its huge. It showed last night in all the things he can do defensively and in getting the puck to our offensive players hands, said Duncan Keith. Hes got good skill. Hes been around, hes smart and he can help us a bunch of different ways.

Taking up minutes was a big part of that; Oduya played nearly 20 against Toronto and over 22 against the Ottawa Senators on Friday night. Oduyas had to adjust quickly from his time with the Jets.

We were more of a checking group (in Winnipeg), not much skill up front, obviously. And this is a more skilled team where, for me, I can try to get into plays more, Oduya said. Its important to move the puck up quick to the forwards. They have a lot of speed to get open.

Hence Kanes adulation with Oduyas style, which seems to fit in more with the Blackhawks: speed, movement and show off that skill.

Hes got a lot of poise, patience to his game, said coach Joel Quenneville, who put Oduya with Nick Leddy and reunited Keith and Brent Seabrook during the Toronto game. Hes got some reliability, predictability and steadiness. In two games we really like the addition. You looked at our needs (at the deadline), we talked about this and that; defenseman was something we could use and hes fit in perfectly.

Oduya will keep learning. Right now hes sharing quality minutes with his fellow veteran defensemen and taking the pressure off some of those guys. Its only two games, but its been a good start.

Its a little bit different style of game, more possession than checking maybe, I knew it would take some getting used to but I feel pretty comfortable, Oduya said. As long as we keep winning games Im happy.

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit Jets in Central Division showdown

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Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit Jets in Central Division showdown

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Winnipeg Jets 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. Corey Crawford vs. Connor Hellebuyck.

When ranking the importance of goaltenders to their respective teams, these two should be near the top of the list. And they're having Vezina Trophy-type seasons.

Crawford ranks second in the league among starters with a .933 save percentage this season and is 7-0-2 with a 2.18 goals against average and .933 save percentage in his last nine starts.

Hellebuyck on the other hand has arguably been the MVP for the Jets, compiling a 16-3-4 record with a 2.44 goals against average, .920 save percentage and a shutout in 25 appearances. Backup goaltenders Steve Mason and Eric Comrie have combined for a 2-5-1 record with a .897 save percentage in nine appearances. 

They are clearly better when Hellebuyck is in goal, and it's not close. Expect a fun showdown in net.

2. Pick your poison.

There may not be a deeper forward group in the Western Conference than the Jets. They have a dangerous four-line rotation, with the ability to score from top to bottom.

Blake Wheeler has 10 points (two goals, eight assists) in six games this month, and is among the top 10 in scoring with 38 points. Patrik Laine has scored a goal in four of his last six games, while Nikolaj Ehlers has scored in three straight.

And then we get to the bottom six.

The third line of Andrew Copp, Adam Lowry and Brandon Tanev are the fifth-best trio in the entire league (minimum of 100 minutes) when it comes to possession numbers, controlling 61.38 percent of the even-strength shot attempts, while the fourth line of Mathieu Perreault, Matt Hendricks and Joel Armia is coming off a game in which they combined for five points (two goals, three assists).

This might be the biggest test yet for the Blackhawks.

3. Be ready by puck drop.

No team has scored more goals in the first period than the Jets, who have 40. The next highest team is the Toronto Maple Leafs with 37. 

But the Blackhawks aren't too shabby in the opening frame, either. They rank fifth with 32 goals, although seven of them came in the first two games of the season.

Still, there's no room for a slow start on either side. Two points are on the line for a Jets team aiming for the No. 1 seed and a Blackhawks squad trying to get back into the playoff picture.

Blackhawks recall Ville Pokka, place Cody Franson on injured reserve

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USA TODAY

Blackhawks recall Ville Pokka, place Cody Franson on injured reserve

The Blackhawks have been one of the healthiest teams in the league this season as far as man games lost, but they took a mini blow to their blue line. 

Cody Franson was placed on injured reserve retroactive to Dec. 9 and Ville Pokka was recalled from the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League, the team announced Wednesday.

Franson sustained a lower-body injury last Friday in a 3-2 overtime win over the Buffalo Sabres, and was considered day to day. But after practicing Monday, Franson didn't feel healthy enough to participate in morning skate ahead of Tuesday's game against the Florida Panthers and was ruled out.

Franson is eligible to return Sunday when the Blackhawks host the Minnesota Wild.

In a corresponding roster move, the Blackhawks brought up Pokka, who has yet to make his NHL debut. There's a chance he could play Thursday in Winnipeg, but it's more likely the call-up is to provide insurance — although, the Blackhawks announced later in the afternoon that Jan Rutta (upper body) will not travel to Winnipeg, so perhaps Joel Quenneville could roll with seven defensemen against a high-powered Jets offense.

Pokka, 23, ranks second among IceHogs defensemen with 12 points (three goals, nine assists) in 26 games this season.

He was drafted in the second round (No. 34 overall) by the New York Islanders, and was acquired by Chicago in 2014 as part of the package that sent Nick Leddy the other way.