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Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit Islanders tonight on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit Islanders tonight on CSN

Watch as the Blackhawks take on the New York Islanders 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. Andrew Ladd faces former team.

The former two-time Blackhawk who helped bring a Stanley Cup to Chicago in 2010 and was re-acquired by the team at the trade deadline last February for the stretch run will face his former team for the first time since inking a seven-year, $38.5 million deal with the Islanders. He's gotten off to a rough start, scoring only three goals and three assists in 28 games. He's also averaging 16:25 of ice time, which would be the lowest since 2010. Ladd will surely be playing with some extra juice.

2. John Tavares vs. Jonathan Toews.

Tavares and Toews were two of the best forwards for Team Canada at the World Cup of Hockey, both of whom were tied for third on the team with four points. Now they're back to being opponents. The Islanders captain has three goals in his last four games while the Blackhawks captain recently returned from a nine-game hiatus due to a back injury and will look to return to top form. Who knows whether the coaching matchups will feature these two on the ice together, but it's always fun to watch two of the best two-way centers go head-to-head.

3. Another game-winner for Artem Anisimov?

According to Elias, Anisimov is the first Blackhawks skater to score three game-winning goals in three straight team wins since Patrick Sharp did so in 2011-12. Anisimov now has six game-winners on the year, which is tied with Jeff Carter for the league lead. His previous career high in a single season was five, accomplished in 2013-14 with Columbus. There's still 52 games left in the season.

4. Find lanes and shoot.

The Islanders have allowed the third-most shots on goal this season at 32.6 per game. And that number could be higher considering they lead the league in blocked shots with 543. They sacrifice their bodies a lot, so expect the Blackhawks to pepper the net and try to find the open lane before shooting. 

5. Take a lead into the third period. Or don't?

The Blackhawks improved to 13-0-0 this season when leading after two periods, and are 75-0-4 in that department since the start of the 2014-15 campaign. The Islanders are one of four teams that have yet to win a game when trailing after the second (0-7-1). But it may not be important. The Blackhawks' best period has been the third, where they've scored 27 goals and have given up only 20, which is tied for second-fewest. The Islanders have scored their most goals in the third (28), but have allowed the fourth-most (33) in the final frame. The Blackhawks aren't strangers to comeback victories, having the second-most wins (5) when trailing after two periods. Of course, they'd like to take a lead into the third but it wouldn't be the end of the world if that's not the case.

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Recapping breakout OHL season for Blackhawks top prospect Adam Boqvist

Recapping breakout OHL season for Blackhawks top prospect Adam Boqvist

The London Knights set high expectations for themselves going into the 2018-19 OHL campaign. They always do. Their roster is usually loaded with top NHL prospects and this season was no different.

After finishing No. 1 in the Western Conference with 99 points, the Knights looked poised to go on a deep run. They got off to a roaring start in the playoffs by sweeping the Windsor Spitfires (4-0) and kicked off the second round by winning three straight against the Guelph Storm. But then, for the first time all season, the Knights lost four in a row to squander a 3-0 series lead and were eliminated just like that. It was a disappointing finish for a team with Memorial Cup aspirations.

One of the bright spots of the postseason was Blackhawks prospect Adam Boqvist. He was tied for first among all skaters with 10 goals through two rounds; no other defenseman had more than six. And he finished with 13 points in 11 games for a points-per-game average of 1.18.

To summarize his season: Boqvist scored one goal in his first 15 games. From that point on, he finished with 29 goals and 60 points in 50 games, including playoffs. He became an offensive driving force.

It's unclear what his future holds, but with Evan Bouchard expected to turn pro and secure a full-time roster spot on the Edmonton Oilers next season, returning to London would put Boqvist in a position where he could be the No. 1 defenseman in all situations.

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Blackhawks 2018-19 season grades: Front office

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AP

Blackhawks 2018-19 season grades: Front office

If we're evaluating Stan Bowman's moves as a whole, we have to go back to July 1 when the 2018-19 season really started.

On that day, the Blackhawks announced three signings: Chris Kunitz (one year, $1 million), Brandon Manning (two years, $2.25 million cap hit) and Cam Ward (one year, $3 million). Not exactly splashy additions after missing the playoffs for the first time in 10 years — although, to be fair, it wasn't a great market to throw money around.

Eleven days later, the Blackhawks traded Marian Hossa and his $5.275 million cap hit to the Arizona Coyotes in a seven-player deal that included top-nine winger Vinnie Hinostroza. Bowman acknowledged after the trade that he tried exploring every possible avenue before surrendering that the financial flexibility became more valuable.

But the trade might've put the team in a better position going into free agency had it been executed before July 1. Because of all that, Bowman's grade isn't looking great so far.

Then we get into the actual regular season.

The biggest move Bowman made was the coaching change on Nov. 6 in going from future Hall of Famer Joel Quenneville to Jeremy Colliton, which was a controversial decision in and of itself, especially the timing of it.

“There’s no perfect way to do things," Bowman admitted. "I think we made the best of it at the time. It’s one of those things where you’ve just gotta get through it. I think he’s gonna benefit from not only having a training camp next year but also we had this whole long stretch of a season. ... We’ve got a lot more things we want to get to, and I think we did a good job of — it’s a good start, but I’m sure Jeremy will tell you that we want to be way better next year and we’re gonna push our players to be better. We’re gonna try to do things differently. It’s not just taking this exact same program and we’ll start that. We want to do different things as well and enhance our team. I think there’s reason for hope there.”

Where did Bowman start to earn high marks? The roster tinkering, beginning in late November.

Perhaps recognizing that Nick Schmaltz wasn't progressing the way the team would have liked in a contract season, Bowman dealt him for a potential future second-line center in Dylan Strome and replenished the top-nine forward they lost in Hinostroza with Brendan Perlini, who showed flashes down the stretch. That's turned out to be a win-win for both sides.

The trade that was very clearly one-sided is the one Bowman pulled off with Peter Chiarelli, who was later relieved of his GM duties with the Edmonton Oilers.

Not only did Bowman acquire rugged winger Drake Caggiula, who became such a valuable part of the Blackhawks' second-half turnaround because he was a perfect complement for Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews on the top line, but he unloaded the contract of Manning without having to retain salary or giving up an important piece of the roster. It essentially gave the Blackhawks an extra $2.25 million to work with this summer, which shouldn't go unnoticed when you look at how deep the 2019 free agent class is.

Bowman essentially undid the mistake he made and put the Blackhawks in an even better position going into this offseason by adding a useful player on top of it. So he certainly upped his overall grade.

Now it's time to spend the money he cleared in getting rid of the contracts of Hossa and Manning, and continue building around the current core.

"We're not going to bring the same group back," Bowman said. "That's clear. We don't do that really any year. There's changes to every team, even a team that ends up winning the Cup this year will have some different players. We're going to have some new players next year. What we're going to do is try to improve in the areas where our team needs some help and the way that looks isn't completely clear right now, but we have time over the next couple months to dive in and look at our team in greater detail and figure out how we're going to make that happen.

"There's obviously free agent signings, there's trades, there's growth from within. Those are the ways that your team improves from year to year and we're going to do that. So we're going to have some new players here next year for sure but we have a lot of players that are going to be back and I think a lot of the key guys who had good seasons they're coming back for sure, so we don't need across the board changes but we do need some new players."

Front office: B-

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