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 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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Blackhawks’ depth could be key as roster becomes clearer

Blackhawks’ depth could be key as roster becomes clearer

Jeremy Colliton has tried to dismiss any notion that forward lines in preseason games or practice groups in training camp give any indication as to what the Blackhawks might look like come October 4 in Prague. But with only two preseason games remaining – one of which could very well be the Rockford IceHogs against the Boston Bruins – it would be quite a shock to see the lines shuffled much before the team heads overseas.

“To me, it’s becoming more clear what our lineup is going to look like,” Colliton said after a 3-2 overtime win over an abbreviated Bruins squad on Saturday. “I think we’re getting what we want out of training camp here.”

Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews look like a safe bet to once again start the season on the top line, with Alexander Nylander getting the first look on the left wing. On the second line, the combination of Dylan Strome and Alex DeBrincat look like they will have Andrew Shaw pestering opponents and opening up some ice for them.

Where the Blackhawks hope to see a major improvement is in the bottom six, where the team struggled to generate offense last season. Stan Bowman’s additions this summer seem to have the Blackhawks in much better position to not have to rely so heavily on their top two lines or top power play unit.

The third line looks fairly set with Brandon Saad on the left wing and Dominik Kubalik on the right wing. David Kampf looks like the favorite to center that line, but the Blackhawks did give Anton Wedin a look there against the Bruins, and he delivered a primary assist on Saad’s goal.

“I think he plays with a lot of energy and he’s a conscientious player. I think he works hard. Both sides of the puck, he’s got a little bit of skill. He’s a strong skater,” Colliton said of Wedin. “I thought he did well, I liked that line. I thought Saad was excellent.”

The fourth line of Drake Caggiula, Ryan Carpenter and Zack Smith earned high praise as well.

“I thought that Carpenter line with Smith and Caggiula was really good, really effective for us,” Kane said. “I think that’s something we might have been missing a little bit last year. Good to see them going, seems like that could be a fun line to watch.”

When the Blackhawks’ season ended this past April, Colliton said he wanted to rely less on Kane and use his star in a more “targeted” way. If the third and fourth lines can generate some scoring, or at the very least some offensive zone time, it could go a long way in getting the Blackhawks into a position to confidently roll four lines.

“We have so much more depth, definitely. There’s no question,” Colliton said. “To have the opportunity to move guys up at times, they should be fresh and ready to make a difference further up the lineup. We have competition, which I think is a good formula for us.”

So, while Colliton may try to play coy on forward lines and defense pairings, Kane has much less to hide.

“That was pretty much our lineup, or close to our lineup, so we’re trying to identify the way we want to play,” Kane said. “Obviously, I think we had some spurts tonight where we did that well and some other times where we struggled a little bit. It’s early in the season, we’re still trying to figure it out.”

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Blackhawks announce second round of roster cuts

USA Today

Blackhawks announce second round of roster cuts

After making a first wave of roster cuts to pare their roster down from 55 to 49, the Blackhawks announced a more significant second round Saturday afternoon.

Per the team, forwards Dylan Sikura, Matthew Highmore, Brandon Hagel, Philipp Kurashev, Mikael Hakkarainen, Alexandre Fortin, Reese Johnson, MacKenzie Entwistle, defensemen Nicolas Beaudin, Joni Tuulola, Lucas Carlsson and goaltender Matt Tomkins have all been assigned to the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League.

The Blackhawks roster now consists of 33 players: 18 forwards, 11 defensemen and four goaltenders. 

The news comes just hours before the Blackhawks square off with the Bruins in the team's fourth game of the preseason Saturday night.

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