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Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks host Ducks tonight on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks host Ducks tonight on CSN

Watch as the Blackhawks take on the Anaheim Ducks tonight on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com. Coverage begins at 7 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. Johnny Oduya's debut.

In an effort to strengthen their blue line, the Blackhawks re-acquired Oduya on Feb. 28, just one day before the trade deadline. But after being sidelined for more than a month with an ankle injury, the Blackhawks wisely decided to delay his return to make sure his conditioning level was back to 100 percent. He had logged 18:28 of ice time on Feb. 26, so he's healthy enough to play. But the Blackhawks played it safe with an important final month upcoming, and he'll finally make his much-anticipated debut (again) in Chicago tonight.

2. More balanced defensive pairings.

With the addition of Oduya and return of Niklas Hjalmarsson, who was dealing with an upper-body injury, the Blackhawks are as deep as they've been on the back end in years. Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook are reunited on the top pairing followed by Oduya and Hjalmarsson, a duo that was so effective during the 2015 Stanley Cup run. The third pairing is rounded out by Brian Campbell and Trevor van Riemsdyk, both of whom have played among the top four at different times this season but are better suited on the bottom unit. Everyone's in the right place.

3. A healthy lineup.

Nick Schmaltz, who has missed the last two games with an illness, will return to the lineup tonight and slot back into the top line with Jonathan Toews and Richard Panik, a trio that has been one of the hottest in the league since February. Artem Anisimov appears to be healthy as well after returning to the lineup last week following a lower-body injury. That means the Blackhawks are as healthy as they've been all season, aside from the fact Scott Darling is out with an upper-body injury for the next few weeks. Let's see what this entire group can do together.

4. Ducks droughts.

Corey Perry has zero goals in his last 10 games, the third time he's had a scoring drought of at least 10 games this season, with his first going all the way up to 18 and second to 13. Ryan Kesler, Anaheim's second-leading scorer with 19 goals, has lit the lamp only twice in his last 23 games. And the team's power play is just 1-for-23 in their last 10, coming out to a 4.4 percent success rate. But the Blackhawks need to be careful. Both of these players are capable of exploding on any given night, and their power play unit is loaded with weapons. They're all due, so it's important not to give them an ounce of life with the risk of opening up the floodgates.

5. A sprint to the finish.

Starting tonight, there are 31 days left in the Blackhawks' regular season. They'll play 17 games during that stretch, including two back-to-backs. Luckily for the Blackhawks, they've played in only eight games the past 24 days, so they should be well-rested for the busy slate that awaits as they continue their pursuit for home-ice advantage throughout the Western Conference.

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Why Blackhawks' Alex Nylander is standing out in Phase 3 training camp

Why Blackhawks' Alex Nylander is standing out in Phase 3 training camp

When forward Alex Nylander came to the Blackhawks last offseason in a trade that sent Henri Jokiharju — a young and promising defenseman for Chicago — to the Buffalo Sabres, Blackhawks fans and media were left scratching their heads.

Then, Nylander scored the Hawks' first goal of the season in their first game of the 2019-20 campaign against the Philadelphia Flyers in Prague. 

Throughout the season the winger would show flashes of offensive brilliance that occasionally earned him ice time among the Blackhawks' top forwards like Patrick Kane. 

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But as soon as we would feel remorse for doubting the trade and his abilities, Nylander would cough up the puck or hesitate in the midst of a quality scoring chance immediately after. 

The 22-year-old is using the NHL's Return To Play program as an opportunity to show growth and dependability in his game.

Nylander was one of few Hawks that regularly participated in Phase 2's small group voluntary workouts. Teammates are already noticing his game in Phase 3's training camp, which began on Monday.

Related: Why Blackhawks' Phase 3 training camp has had an extra intensity

"Nylander, I thought, looked really good. He’s quick, he’s firing the puck and he’s a lot of fun to play with," Hawks forward Dylan Strome said after Day 2's practice.

When asked about Strome's comments on Wednesday, Alex said he's confident in how he's performed in camp, but wants to reach another level for the Blackhawks' big postseason opportunity. 

"I feel pretty good right now, been getting those skates in before in Phase 2 which was huge. I feel really good here in camp, but I want to be prepared because this is obviously going to be my first playoffs," Nylander said. "Like Stromer said, I started playing really well at the end of the season, especially with Stromer and Kane, good chemistry and stuff like that and kind of building on that and keep it going for the playoffs, it's going to be huge."

The Blackhawks will be playing the Oilers in a best-of-five play-in series for this year's Stanley Cup Playoffs on Aug. 1 in Edmonton. Before the qualifying round starts, the Hawks will take on the St. Louis Blues July 29 in an exhibition game.

"We have huge games there obviously and we just need to be as ready as possible," Nylander said. "It was nice to get to know (teammates) and play with them in Phase 2, so we got to know each other better off the ice and on the ice, so just keep carrying it on every day in training camp and working hard and we'll be ready for the playoffs."

Nylander had 26 points (10 goals, 16 assists) in 65 games with the Hawks before the NHL paused on March 12 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

How Malcolm Subban is preparing for potential 'opportunity of a lifetime'

How Malcolm Subban is preparing for potential 'opportunity of a lifetime'

When Robin Lehner was traded to the Vegas Golden Knights at the NHL trade deadline, you knew the Blackhawks were going to ride Corey Crawford down the stretch as long as they were mathematically in the playoff hunt. And that's exactly what happened.

Malcolm Subban, who was part of the package coming back to Chicago, logged only 70 seconds of ice time in a Blackhawks sweater prior to the March 12 pause after being called upon for a brief relief appearance. But his role could be expanding in a significant way ahead of the NHL’s Return to Play tournament.

Crawford has been absent for the first three days of training camp after being ruled "unfit to play," which has opened the door for Subban to potentially serve as the Blackhawks' starter for their qualifying round matchup against the Edmonton Oilers if Crawford isn't ready.

"It could end up being the opportunity of a lifetime," Subban said. "For me, it's just taking it day by day and continuing to work hard and making sure I'm ready if I get an opportunity."

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Head coach Jeremy Colliton made it clear on Day 1 that it will be an open competition as the Blackhawks prepare for the possibility of life without Crawford. Collin Delia, Kevin Lankinen and Matt Tomkins will have as equal a shot as Subban to make their case, with all four rotating in and out with the NHL regulars' group during camp.

"We have a situation now where we’ve talked about it being open competition for a spot, whether that’s the starting position or the backup when we start come playoff time," Colliton said. "I think the work ethic from all of those guys has been good and that makes us feel good about the preparation they’re doing to take hold of that opportunity."

But Subban may have a slight leg up on the competition. He was one of only four Blackhawks — along with Alex DeBrincat, Alex Nylander and Patrick Kane — who participated in Phase 2 of voluntary workouts at Fifth Third Arena from start to finish and has the most career starts (60) among the four goaltenders.

Despite all that, Subban still feels like he has a long way to go before getting his timing right. He's taking full advantage of every practice session with goaltending coach Jimmy Waite and ironing out the fundamentals of his game because coaches weren’t allowed on the ice during Phase 2.

But Subban is slowly working his way back into form and getting more comfortable with each practice.

“We were skating for three or four weeks and I thought I was back on the little small things,” Subban said. “And then got out with Jimmy for the first time and realized I still had a lot of stuff to work on. But just getting out there and trying to correct those little bad habits that form and also getting back into game shape. Every skate will help.“