Blackhawks

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks host defending champion Penguins

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Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks host defending champion Penguins

Here are Three Things to Watch in the Blackhawks' season opener against the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Red Carpet.

1. Three-headed showdown: Crosby-Malkin-Letang vs. Toews-Kane-Keith

A big reason why many hockey fans have been waiting for a Chicago-Pittsburgh Stanley Cup Final this decade is because of the star power both teams have and the big markets they play in. It starts with these six guys, all of whom will likely go into the Hockey Hall of Fame when their careers are all said and done. 

Among them, they have a combination of six Conn Smythe Trophy's, four Hart Trophy's and three Stanley Cups each. It's an amazing collection of hardware. It makes you appreciate the matchup even more when you factor in that they only meet twice a year.

And if we're lucky enough, maybe we'll get some 3-on-3 overtime so they can show off their world-class talents in the open ice.

2. Alex DeBrincat's NHL debut.

He's dominated in the Ontario Hockey League, he shined at the Traverse City prospect tournament and he looked great in preseason. Now it's time to see what the 5-foot-7, 165-pound winger can do at the highest level when the games actually count.

There's no question he has the ability and will to succeed in the NHL, but there will still be a learning curve along the way. What better way to get your feet wet than against the two-time reigning Stanley Cup champions?

3. How will Brandon Saad and Patrick Sharp fare in their official Chicago returns?

A pair of fan-favorites are back in Chicago, and were ultimately brought in for the same reason: help get the Blackhawks back to the top of the mountain.

Saad will look to rekindle his magic with Jonathan Toews on the top line and set the tone for the rest of the lineup, while Sharp can still play top-six minutes (if needed), contribute on the power play and be a veteran presence in the process as they look to bridge the gap with their younger players.

The United Center roof might explode after Saad and Sharp are both welcomed back with video board tributes.

With Corey Crawford on injured reserve, Collin Delia gets chance to showcase himself

With Corey Crawford on injured reserve, Collin Delia gets chance to showcase himself

After sustaining a concussion on Sunday against the San Jose Sharks, the Blackhawks placed Corey Crawford on injured reserve retroactive to Dec. 16 and will not be eligible to return until Dec. 23, meaning he'll miss at least the next three games while he goes through the league's concussion protocol.

In a corresponding move, Collin Delia was recalled from the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League on an emergency basis. And it's a great opportunity for the 24-year-old to showcase himself to the Blackhawks as their potential No. 1 goaltender of the future.

Delia has done everything asked of him this season and more in the AHL, where he leads the league among qualified goaltenders with a .933 save percentage and is tied for third with a 2.34 goals against average in 17 appearances despite holding a 7-5-4 record. He's allowed two goals or fewer in seven of his last 10 appearances, and is coming off a game in which he stopped 37 of 38 shots (.974 save percentage) in a 2-1 win over the Grand Rapids Griffins.

Delia, who signed with the Blackhawks as an undrafted free agent on July 28, 2017, made a strong impression under Jeremy Colliton last season down the stretch and during Rockford's Western Conference Final run in the Calder Cup Playoffs by winning seven of 10 games and recording a 2.34 GAA and .924 save percentage.

Delia picked up right where he left off this season and is starting to provide a large enough sample size in the AHL to show that his game could translate to the NHL level, where he's appeared in only two games and has an .889 save percentage. He's likely to split time with Cam Ward as the Blackhawks look to fill the void with Crawford out.

Where do Blackhawks go from here after Corey Crawford concussion?

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USA TODAY

Where do Blackhawks go from here after Corey Crawford concussion?

It's been a troubling season for the Blackhawks and the calendar hasn't even flipped to 2019 yet. They parted ways with the second-winningest coach of all-time in Joel Quenneville, traded a player who was perceived to be part of the new core in Nick Schmaltz and sit in the basement of the NHL standings. 

But the worst-case scenario unfolded on Sunday night when Corey Crawford left the game after a violent collision in the crease that resulted in the back of his head hitting the post. The Blackhawks confirmed afterwards that he sustained another concussion, his second known one in less than a year. And it's concerning for many reasons.

First and foremost, Crawford's health is the only thing that truly matters both right now and in the grand scheme of things and, judging by how silent the United Center got after he skated off with head athletic trainer Mike Gapski, the city of Chicago agrees.

Crawford's history is well-documented. It took him 10 months to recover from the last concussion that sidelined him for 47 games during the 2017-18 campaign and the first five this season as he got himself into game shape. He battled so hard to get back. And then this happens.

It's unclear what kind of symptoms Crawford is feeling and how long this could keep him out for, but the Blackhawks are surely going to err on the side of caution going forward. There's no reason not to. Whether or not this injury makes Crawford consider stepping away from the game of hockey is entirely up to him and only him. That's a separate conversation.

Unfortunately on the business side of things, this raises many questions for the Blackhawks.

What if Crawford is out for an extended period of time again? Can they rely on his health in the future? Does finding his long-term replacement immediately become a top priority? Is the answer already in the organization or do they have to explore external options? And how could this affect their offseason approach?

When things settle down and there's more clarity surrounding Crawford's status, these are the questions the Blackhawks will be asking themselves and must answer going into one of the most important summers in recent memory.

Crawford turns 34 on Dec. 31 and has one year remaining on his contract after this season worth $6 million. Where he fits into the Blackhawks' plans is pretty low on the list of things that matter at this point.

Right now, it's about hoping for the best that Crawford can recover as quickly as possible that way he can make a decision regarding his future on his own terms.