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Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Maple Leafs tonight on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Maple Leafs tonight on CSN

Watch as the Blackhawks take on the Toronto Maple Leafs tonight on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com. Coverage begins at 5:30 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. Auston Matthews and Jonathan Toews.

Even before he was drafted No. 1 overall in 2016, Matthews drew early comparisons to Toews, and it's easy to see the connection. They're both terrific two-way centermen, are difficult to knock off the puck, are just as effective in the defensive zone that they are in the offensize zone, own a lethal shot, and are leaders both on and off the ice.

Matthews is having a sensational rookie campaign, with 31 goals and 24 assists for 55 points in 69 games. He's neck-and-neck with Patrik Laine in the Calder Trophy race as the league's top rookie, and is even challenging for the Maurice "Rocket" Richard Trophy as leading goal scorer. 

2. Patrick Kane and Mitch Marner.

Like Matthews and Toews, there are many similarities between Kane and Marner. They're both undersized offensive wingers, possess great hands, are smooth skaters, and are dangerous on the power play. Kane joined Sportsnet's Hockey Central earlier in the year and acknowledged those comparisons, and even admitted that Marner is more of a two-way player than Kane was when he was 19 years old.

Marner, the No. 4 overall pick in 2015, is tied with Matthews for first on the team with 55 points in 64 games this season, and is on pace to finish with more points than Kane did (72) during his rookie campaign. Marner is averaging .86 points per game while Kane's average was .88.

3. Mike Babcock and Joel Quenneville.

When two of the best coaches in NHL history go up against each other, it's always fun to watch the chess match that occurs during the game. With the Blackhawks being the road team, Babcock will have the luxury of last line change. Both rosters are loaded with talent, so it will be interesting to see how Babcock plays his cards against Quenneville.

Babcock and Quenneville have combined for 1,434 regular-season wins, 200 playoff wins and four Stanley Cups. They also helped Team Canada capture gold at the World Cup last fall.

4. James and Trevor van Riemsdyk.

Because they're in different conferences, the van Riemsdyk brothers only see each other twice a year. But Trevor wasn't able to play in the first meeting all the way back on Oct. 22 due to an upper-body injury, and James missed both contests in 2015-16 with a fractured foot. So this will be their first game against each other since Nov. 1, 2014, which was the first time they faced off in the NHL.

In that game, Trevor was on the ice against his older brother for 8:03 of his 19:21 minutes, the highest amount of time he spent on the ice against one Maple Leafs player. James scored a goal in that game, and he also lit the lamp in the first meeting this season.

5. Beware Toronto's power play.

As mentioned above, the Maple Leafs have a handful of young, skilled forwards that can make you pay on the man advantage. They're No. 1 in the league in that department with a 23.7 percent success rate. And they're in a nice groove right now, too, having scored at least a power play goal in five of their past six games, going 6-for-19 (31.6 percent) during that stretch.

The Blackhawks have been great on the penalty kill in eight games this month, allowing only one goal in their last 16 tries (93.8 percent). As Pat Foley would say, something's gotta give!

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Report: Blackhawks will head to Edmonton in NHL's Return to Play plan

Report: Blackhawks will head to Edmonton in NHL's Return to Play plan

The NHL and NHL Players' Association worked diligently into the late hours on Tuesday and reportedly made significant progress as the two sides look to come to an overall agreement on the protocols and safety measures for Phase 3 and 4, transition rules and a Collective Bargaining Agreement extension. 

Nothing is official until the entire deal is ratified — the voting could take place Friday or Saturday — but, barring any last-minute breakdowns, Edmonton and Toronto are expected to be named the two hub cities for the league's 24-team Return to Play plan, according to TSN's Bob McKenzie. Chicago was among the four finalists from a field that started with 10 candidates.

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Vegas was a clear frontrunner from the beginning because of its appealing and tight bubble environment, but the NHL and NHLPA were forced to shift its attention elsewhere after an alarming spike in COVID-19 cases.

It was originally believed that the league would put each conference in opposite regions to eliminate any sort of competitive advantage, but that no longer appears to be the case. The Western Conference is expected to play in Edmonton while the Eastern Conference will go to Toronto, which means the Blackhawks will head to Edmonton if or when hockey officially returns.

Both hub cities will host exhibition games, the qualifying round and Rounds 1 and 2 of the playoffs, but only one of them will host the Conference Finals and Stanley Cup Final. It's unclear which city will host the latter.

Report: Blackhawks' Ian Mitchell not expected to play in NHL's 24-team playoff

Report: Blackhawks' Ian Mitchell not expected to play in NHL's 24-team playoff

When the NHL's Return To Play plan and 24-team playoff format were originally being hashed out, there was some hope that the Blackhawks could receive some much-needed defensive depth from Ian Mitchell. But that may not be the case.

Chicago could use all the help they can get in their potential best-of-5 play-in series against the Oilers under the league's format.

Mitchell, 21, was drafted by the Hawks in the second round (No. 57 overall) of the 2017 NHL Draft. He spent the past three seasons at the University of Denver, captaining the Pioneers this past year and setting a career high in goals (10) and points (32) through 36 games.

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The promising defenseman signed a three-year entry-level contract with Chicago in April after the NHL paused due to the COVID-19 pandemic on March 11.

Wednesday morning, TSN's Bob McKenzie reported players in a similar boat to Mitchell who signed during the pause, as well as unsigned draft picks, are not expected to be eligible if and when the NHL resumes to finish the 2019-20 season.