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Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks clash with Ducks today on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks clash with Ducks today on CSN

Watch as the Blackhawks take on the Anaheim Ducks today on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com. Coverage begins at 2:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live. Then stick around after the final buzzer to watch Blackhawks Postgame Live for highlights and analysis.

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Five Things to Watch:

1. No Jonathan Toews.

The Blackhawks captain will not play this afternoon due to an upper-body injury he suffered during Wednesday's 2-1 loss to the San Jose Sharks. It's an opportunity for the younger guys to step up in a significant role, but there's no denying that leaves a gaping hole up the middle. Without him, the top line at Thursday's practice consisted of Ryan Hartman, Vinnie Hinostroza and Marian Hossa while Artemi Panarin, Artem Anisimov and Patrick Kane anchored the second line. It's all hands on deck without No. 19.

2. Win at the dot.

The Ducks are by far the best team at the faceoff circle this season, winning 56.5 percent of their draws. The Blackhawks rank No. 17 at 49.5 percent. With Toews officially ruled out, this could be a huge area of concern. He leads the league with 292 wins at the dot, and owns a 60.3 win percentage. No other Blackhawks center has won more than 50 percent of his draws.

3. Tight defense.

The Ducks are 9-0-0 when scoring three or more goals in a game, and are 0-7-4 when they score two or fewer. The Blackhawks have scored at least two goals in every game except three, two of which have been shutouts. If the Blackhawks can manage to keep it a low-scoring affair, they should be in good shape. If they try and play run-and-gun with the Ducks, they could find themselves in some trouble, especially since they'll be without Toews. 

4. Falling behind.

The Blackhawks have been outscored 5-0 in the first period — and 8-1 in the first two periods — over their last three games. They're playing with fire by digging themselves into an early hole and it's asking a lot to keep relying on third-period comebacks to pick up points. Both teams have lost their last two contests, so expect a fast-paced game right from the get-go.

5. Beware of Corey Perry's goal drought.

Perry led the Ducks with 34 goals last season, and it wasn't even close; the next closest was Ryan Kesler with 21. Perry leads the club with 16 points this year, but he's found the back of the net just four times through 20 games and hasn't scored in 12 straight. We've recently seen Connor McDavid bust out of a 10-game goal drought by netting his first career NHL hat trick while Auston Matthews snapped a 13-game slump by scoring twice on Wednesday. One goal could open up the flood gates for Perry, so it may be best to make sure he's not given the opportunity to make the Blackhawks find out.

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How Blackhawks physicality is adding new dimension to style of play

How Blackhawks physicality is adding new dimension to style of play

The Blackhawks turned in their best 60-minute effort of the young season in Monday’s 3-1 win over the Edmonton Oilers. They controlled the pace of play, got terrific goaltending from Corey Crawford and tightened up defensively.

But they also showed that they added a new layer to their team game this season.

The Blackhawks registered 36 hits against the Oilers, one of which was thunderously delivered by Andrew Shaw, sparking a scrum. Brent Seabrook led the team with six hits, Calvin de Haan had five and Drake Caggiula and Olli Maatta each had four. Heck, even Alex DeBrincat (three) and Patrick Kane (one) got in on the action.

It’s an element of their game that’s been missing the last few seasons and something they feel is important to their overall team success because it keeps other teams honest.

"I don't know if it's because of the personnel we have or the way we want to be strong and competitive and win battles, but obviously the other night we had a lot of finished hits and a lot of physicality that brings up the morale on the bench, which is a good thing," Kane said. "You look at Shawzy's hit, the stuff he's been doing early in the season — whether it's scoring big goals or sticking up for guys after they get hit — it's been awesome for the team. That's something that can really help us. We also need to play a little bit more with the puck, but it's a way we can get the puck back."

The Blackhawks don’t necessarily want to lead the NHL in the hits category, but they do want to establish an identity centered around being a difficult team to play against and adding that dimension is part of it. So is team unity.

"I don't think it's going to be our go-to in the way we're going to beat teams," Jonathan Toews said. "There's no doubt we've got guys that can mix it in. We saw last game with Shawzy and Murph, and [Ryan Carpenter] and [Zack Smith] and go down the list of guys. Even [Caggiula] and [DeBrincat] were throwing the weight around a couple days ago. It's definitely part of our game — we can play with energy and I think it's going to be there when we're ready to go. But our game is puck possession and keeping teams in their end and outplaying them in that sense.”

Through four games this season, the Blackhawks are averaging 33.0 hits per game. The previous two seasons they averaged 16.5 and 16.8, respectively, which ranked 30th.

While it's still early, there's clearly an uptick in the physicality department and it's exactly what the organization was hoping for after bringing in players like Shaw and Smith to add some bite to the roster. The Blackhawks are focused on becoming a team that can win in several different ways and play any kind of style.

"There’s a difference between running around just trying to get a tick on the stat sheet," coach Jeremy Colliton said. "But we definitely want to be physical when we have the chance and force the opposition to make plays before they're ready, and we can create turnovers and transition and offense and get out of D zone. We have some guys who like to play that way and I think it helps our team." 

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Behind the Numbers: Blackhawks third line driving possession against top competition

Behind the Numbers: Blackhawks third line driving possession against top competition

During the Blackhawks' training camp festival on Sept. 15, coach Jeremy Colliton discovered a combination he's grown to like in David Kampf, Dominik Kubalik and Brandon Saad. And it's the only trio that's stuck together through training camp and into the regular season.

On paper, it's not a sexy line. But they all bring different elements and it's translating to on-ice success.

When the three of them are on the ice together at even strength, the Blackhawks are controlling 59.7 percent of the shot attempts, 68.6 of the scoring chances and 76.9 percent of the high-danger chances, according to Natural Stat Trick. 

When they aren't on the ice at even strength? The Blackhawks are controlling 47.6 percent of the shot attempts, 46.2 percent of the scoring chances and 41.7 percent of the high-danger chances. 

Those are ridiculous numbers for a third line, and they're doing it against top competition, too.

On Saturday against Winnipeg, the Saad-Kampf-Kubalik line was tasked with going up against the Jets' Big Three of Patrik Laine, Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler and held them to three shots on goal for and three against in 14:06 of 5-on-5 ice time together. And on Monday against Edmonton, it kept one of the best lines in hockey in check, with Leon Draisaitl, Zack Kassian and Connor McDavid recording a minus-6 shot attempt differential in 15:25 of 5-on-5 ice time together.

The biggest mistake Colliton has made this season was separating the trio in the home opener after Kubalik scored a goal and recorded five shots on goal in the first period. He wanted to get the first line going and provide a spark by rewarding Kubalik, but the third line was dominant in the opening 20 minutes — it generated 10 scoring chances at 5-on-5 in only 4:30 together — and moving Kubalik away from Kampf and Saad really affected both lines in a negative way.

But don't expect Colliton to make that same mistake anytime soon. He learned his lesson and that's the last line he's going to touch if he's looking for a shakeup.

"They all just got real big motors, big engine," Colliton said. "They work and compete and they all bring a little bit different ingredient. Obviously like Saad is an accomplished, proven performer. He takes the puck to the net. He's a horse there. He's really hard to get the puck off, he transports it from D zone to the offensive zone, he can make those plays.

"I think Kampy is a workhorse. He takes a lot of responsibility defensively and can transport the puck from one end to another. Then you got Kubby, he's got a bomb. I've been very impressed with his play away from the puck. That's been a surprise for me. So now he can play on that line because he does so many responsible things. He wins a lot of races, he's a great forechecker. So, pleased with that line."

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