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Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks battle Blues tonight on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks battle Blues tonight on CSN

Watch as the Blackhawks take on the St. Louis Blues tonight on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live. Then stick around after the final buzzer to watch Blackhawks Postgame Live for highlights and analysis.

Click here to watch the game or download the NBC Sports App, your home for live streaming coverage of the Blackhawks.

Five Things to Watch:

1. Jump on the Blues early.

The Blues own a dominant 13-1-2 record at home this season, and have picked up at least a point in 14 straight games at Scottrade Center. One way to snap that streak is to get out in front early considering they score the fifth-fewest goals in the opening frame with 17 and have combined for 64 in the final two periods. The Blackhawks have scored 26 in the first, which ranks among the top-7. But one may not be enough, given that the Blues are 8-6-2 when giving up the first goal. They're a resilient bunch as are the Blackhawks, so setting the tone and taking control early could be key.

2. Will Patrick Kane snap goal drought?

Patrick Kane added another assist to his stat sheet in Thursday's 5-4 win over the New York Islanders, giving him 29 points in 32 games this season, which ranks among the top-10. But he hasn't found the back of the net in nine consecutive games, a drought he says is "frustrating." It's his longest goal drought since the 2013-14 campaign when he went 11 straight without a goal. Against a Blues team battling the Blackhawks for the top spot in the Central Division and Western Conference, perhaps now would be a good time to break through.

3. Artemi Panarin's surge.

There isn't a hotter player on the Blackhawks right now than Artemi Panarin, who had a three-point night on Thursday. He's got three goals and three assists in his last three games, all of which have resulted in wins. His point total matched Kane for the team lead at 29, and is also among the top-10 in the league. Feed him the puck.

4. Vladimir Tarasenko.

Look out for Artemi Panarin's fellow Russian countryman: Vladimir Tarasenko has 14 points (five goals, nine assists) in eight games this month, including 10 points in his last five. His 37 points trail only Connor McDavid (39) for the league lead. Tarasenko has also had success in both games against the Blackhawks this year, scoring two goals and two assists to help the Blues pick up three out of a possible four points. Expect him to be a factor.

5. Hot power play vs. top penalty kill.

The Blackhawks erupted for a season-high three power-play goals in Thursday's win, cashing in on all three opportunities. They're running into the second-best penalty kill unit in the Blues, who have killed off 12 straight penalties to increase their season percentage to 88.2. As the great Pat Foley would say: "Something's gotta give!"

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Is Dylan Sikura on the outside looking in with Blackhawks?

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USA Today

Is Dylan Sikura on the outside looking in with Blackhawks?

The Blackhawks divided practice into two groups on Thursday and Friday. One of them was filled with NHL players. The other was loaded with prospects.

Dylan Sikura found himself in the first group with the prospects, and it's hard not to read into what that could mean about his standing with the team as the coaching staff looks to finalize its 23-man roster over the next two weeks.

Once thought of as a highly-touted prospect coming out of college, Sikura put up strong numbers in the AHL last season but his offensive production hasn't translated to the NHL level.

Part of that is because he was put in favorable situations in college and Rockford, where he played first-line minutes and was the go-to guy on the top power play unit. It was difficult for him to get those same opportunities in Chicago when players like Alex DeBrincat, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews are viewed as the heavy lifters on offense.

When the Blackhawks traded Dominik Kahun to the Pittsburgh Penguins in June for defenseman Olli Maatta, GM Stan Bowman felt he was able to pull the trigger on that trade because he was confident that there were players in-house ready for bigger roles and that could fill Kahun's skates. Bowman singled out Sikura specifically.

“Looking at some of our young players that are getting ready to take on a bigger role, you can look at guys like Dylan Sikura,” Bowman said at the time. “He didn't have the offensive success at the NHL level but I liked the way he played when he was with us last year in Chicago. It felt like his game was real effective other than the production part. Then when he was in Rockford I really liked the way he was able to score down there. So I think he's not far from being a guy and he's got sort of a similar skill set that Dominik has.”

Bowman is right. When Sikura was on the ice at 5-on-5 last season, the Blackhawks controlled 55.4 percent of the shot attempts and 53.2 percent of the scoring chances, according to Natural Stat Trick. When he wasn't on the ice, those numbers dropped to 47.7 and 45.5, respectively. 

But through 38 career games with the Blackhawks, Sikura is still looking for his first career NHL goal and he knows it's a results-oriented business.

“It's obviously something you think about every now and then and it's tough but I thought there was spurts last year where I was really good," Sikura said. "And even though I wasn't scoring I was still playing and put in situations playing with top guys, so I think all that is going to help me in the long run. Coach always says you end up getting rewarded for what you deserve and I think if I continue to work away from the puck and work on that side of the game then the offense will come."

Sikura survived the first wave of cuts, which consisted of six players. But the next round is expected to be bigger and should come this weekend with the IceHogs training camp beginning Sunday.

Whether Sikura is part of that remains to be seen, but with a crowded forward group already and limited spots available, he might have to wait for his chance again mid-season.

“You always got to be ready, if it's going to be here to start the season or down there, you always got to be ready to go,” Sikura said. “You saw last year, I think when you're down there sometimes you don't think you're coming up then next day you get a call, so you always got to be ready and working on your game. It's a little bit of different hockey down there, but you've got to do the little things and I think my game kind of changes down there a little, but to stick up here I've got to do the little things and hopefully it all works out."

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Blackhawks make first wave of roster cuts in 2019 training camp

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Detroit Red Wings

Blackhawks make first wave of roster cuts in 2019 training camp

After starting training camp with 55 players, the Blackhawks made their first wave of roster cuts on Friday and they weren't very surprising.

Forwards Nathan Noel, Graham Knott, Tyler Sikura, Tim Soderlund, Dylan McLaughlin, Kris Versteeg and defensemen Chad Krys, Jack Ramsey and Jake Ryczek were re-assigned to the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League. Goaltender Alexis Gravel was also returned to his junior team, the Halifax Mooseheads of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

The Blackhawks training camp roster now sits at 45 players: 26 forwards, 14 defensemen and five goaltenders.

The IceHogs kick off their training camp on Sunday, so expect the Blackhawks to make more roster moves before then. Saturday's preseason game against the Boston Bruins could serve as the final opportunity for some of the bubble players to make an impression before the organization makes their next round of cuts.

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