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Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks rematch with Flames tonight on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks rematch with Flames tonight on CSN

The Blackhawks welcome the Calgary Flames back to town tonight, and you can catch all the action on CSN. Coverage begins with Blackhawks Pregame Live at 7 p.m. Be sure to stick around after the final horn to get analysis and player reaction on Blackhawks Postgame Live.

Five Things to Watch:

1. Can the Blackhawks crack Brian Elliott?

Elliott was sensational for the Blues in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs last year against the Blackhawks, posting a .929 save percentage and a shutout to help dethrone the defending champions in seven games. The 31-year-old netminder struggled to find that same success early with the Flames, allowing 14 goals in his first three starts and entered last Monday's contest in Chicago with the worst save percentage in the league. And yet Elliott turned in his best outing of the year against the Blackhawks, stopping 31 of 33 shots and all seven attempts in the shootout to give the Flames a 3-2 win. He's allowed only two or fewer goals in each of his last four starts, so expect Elliott to be on his A-game once again.

2. Stay out of the box.

In last Monday's shootout loss, the Blackhawks committed five penalties against the Flames, who made them pay by scoring a pair of goals on the man advantage. Though the Blackhawks' penalty kill unit is slowly showing signs of improvement over the last two games, Corey Crawford owns the league's best save percentage (.976) when at even strength and is coming off a 32-save shutout. He gives them a chance to win every night, and ill-advised penalties are momentum-killers when it ends up in the back of your net.

3. Will special teams continue positive stretch?

A timely penalty kill can also be a momentum-builder, however. Look no further than last Friday when it sparked a comeback win over the Devils by killing off a late penalty in the third period, which then led to a four-minute power play in which the Blackhawks cashed in on to force overtime. They've scored two goals on the power play in each of their last two contests after going 0-for-12 in their previous three and have killed off five straight penalties. Is it more of a blip or are the Blackhawks finally turning the corner? 

4. Containing Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan.

When Gaudreau and Monahan hit the ice, expect to see No. 19 in red out there a whole lot. These two rising stars formulate a dangerous offensive duo on the top line and can take a game over at any moment. Jonathan Toews' line was tasked with defending them in their first meeting, and expect more of the same this time around. 

5. Gustav Forsling expected to return.

Coach Joel Quenneville's bench was shortened during the last meeting against Calgary after Forsling left the game in the second period with an upper-body injury. The 20-year-old Swedish defenseman is expected to return to the lineup tonight, and should give the Blackhawks an extra boost in the transition game.

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Blackhawks assign Anton Forsberg to Rockford after clearing waivers

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USA TODAY

Blackhawks assign Anton Forsberg to Rockford after clearing waivers

Anton Forsberg cleared waivers on Tuesday morning and was assigned to the Rockford IceHogs in the American Hockey League.

That's good news for the Blackhawks organizational depth chart, with Forsberg as the No. 3 in goal. But it also complicates things in Rockford, where Collin Delia and Kevin Lankinen have been sharing the duties.

Delia is 3-1-0 with a 3.26 goals against average and .910 save percentage while Lankinen is 0-1-1 with a 3.39 GAA and .825 save percentage. Perhaps the most likely scenario is Lankinen gets sent to the ECHL with the Indy Fuel while Delia and Forsberg split the load in Rockford.

It's certainly a good problem to have, but it's still unclear how that dynamic will play out.

"We haven’t talked about that," coach Joel Quenneville said. "But we expect [Forsberg] to play."

Luke Johnson recalled

With a spot opening up on the 23-man roster, Johnson is being brought back up after he was squeezed out by Corey Crawford's return. He had a goal and an assist in two games with Rockford.

Brandon Saad returns to top-six role

After turning in arguably his best performance of the season on Sunday, Saad is back playing on the second line with Artem Anisimov and Patrick Kane. He had seven shot attempts (three on goal) against Tampa Bay and led the team in 5-on-5 possession numbers.

"[Saad] is coming off a game where we liked what we saw," Quenneville said. "Playing with Kaner can help him get going."

Nick Schmaltz to play right side for first time in NHL career

Eight games into the season and Schmaltz has spent time at both center and left wing. Now he'll get a look on the right side with Alexandre Fortin on the left and David Kampf centering the third line.

Part of the reason for Schmaltz’s move to the right side was because Quenneville said they like Fortin on the left. It's not unfamiliar territory for Schmaltz, but could take some time getting used to.

"I played a little while back, not sure when," Schmaltz said "Just a little bit different. Catching pucks on your forehand now instead of your backhand. It's not a huge adjustment, just play with speed and compete hard and hopefully the skill on our line will take over."

Evaluating Blackhawks options after Anton Forsberg is placed on waivers

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AP

Evaluating Blackhawks options after Anton Forsberg is placed on waivers

The Blackhawks have said all along that they don't plan on carrying three goaltenders, but wanted to do so during the three games in four days stretch just in case, with Corey Crawford coming back from a 10-month layoff because of a concussion.

After being encouraged by how Crawford has responded to his return, the Blackhawks placed goaltender Anton Forsberg on waivers Monday morning. Teams have 24 hours to put in a claim for the 25-year-old goaltender and would have to keep him on their NHL roster for 10 games and/or 30 days before he's eligible to go through the waiver process again.

His chances of getting claimed by any of the other 30 teams essentially depends on which teams believe Forsberg would be an immediate upgrade over their current backup — or starter, for that matter — or whether there's an injury to one of the team's two goaltenders that requires a placeholder, like we saw the Carolina Hurricanes do by claiming Curtis McElhinney from the Toronto Maple Leafs after Scott Darling's injury in the preseason.

If Forsberg goes unclaimed, the Blackhawks can assign him to the American Hockey League with the Rockford IceHogs. With Collin Delia and Kevin Lankinen sharing the goaltending duties in Rockford, it's possible Lankinen gets sent to the Indy Fuel in the ECHL to get consistent starts under his belt.

A third option, one that isn't very common but we've seen in the past as recently as last October with Maple Leafs goaltender Kasimir Kaskisuo, is that Forsberg can be loaned to any AHL team while still being a part of the Blackhawks organization. This would allow the Blackhawks to keep Delia and Lankinen in Rockford while Forsberg gets his starts in the AHL, too.

Or, the Blackhawks could simply trade Forsberg to another NHL team that could stash him in the AHL, as long as he clears waivers. They did it last season with Chris DiDomenico, who cleared waivers as a member of the Ottawa Senators but was then traded to Chicago for Ville Pokka days later. Had DiDomenico been claimed by the Blackhawks, he would have had to stay on the NHL roster as noted above.

Forsberg was 10-16-4 with a 2.97 goals against average and .908 save percentage in 35 appearances last season but has not appeared in a game yet this year. He was acquired as part of the Brandon Saad package for Artemi Panarin in June 2017.