Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks welcome Senators to town tonight on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks welcome Senators to town tonight on CSN

Watch as the Blackhawks take on the Ottawa Senators 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. Friendly battle between Mike Condon and Scott Darling.

Back in 2014, Condon and Darling formed a bond at a beer-league camp that summer with Maple Leafs goaltender Garret Sparks, an Elmhurst native. They've run it together for three straight years now, and all three have become very close since. When the camp started, none of them had appeared in an NHL game yet, and they all connected by having to overcome difficult odds to do it. Now, Condon, who will make his seventh consecutive start, and Darling, who will start in his 10th straight game, will have the chance to square off against one another after taking advantages of their opportunities in Ottawa and Chicago with the starting goaltenders out. They've both come a long way, and it surely will be a memorable experience for them.

2. Artemi Panarin's chase in the scoring race.

Panarin was named the NHL's first star of the week after scoring three goals and adding seven assists in four games, helping the Blackhawks extend their winning streak to five games. He also stretched his point streak to five games, and upped his point total to 34 on the year, which is tied for third in the league with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jakub Voracek. He's pulled within six points of Connor McDavid for the league lead, making Panarin a darkhorse candidate to win the Art Ross Trophy, an award Patrick Kane took home last season.

3. Erik Karlsson.

The 26-year-old Swedish defenseman had one of the best seasons by a blue liner in NHL history last year, but not many noticed because he played on a non-playoff team. He had 82 points in 82 games, and was a puck possession machine. This year, he's almost at a point-per-game pace with 30 points in 32 games, which leads the team. His skating ability is mesmerizing to watch, and get used to seeing him on the ic a lot. He averages the second-most shifts in the league (32.6) and third-most ice time per game (26:57).

4. How will lines be affected with potential return of Artem Anisimov?

Ryan Hartman and Vinnie Hinostroza didn't have the best possession numbers in Sunday's 4-1 win over San Jose, but both of them made a big impact on the scoresheet at a crucial moment with each potting a goal and an assist in the third period. Hinostroza did a fine job centering that second line, but if Anisimov, who's listed as day-to-day with an upper-body injury, is cleared to play, expect Hinostroza to be bumped back to the fourth line with Tyler Motte and either Andrew Desjardins or Jordin Tootoo.

5. Watch out for flying bodies.

The Senators are not afraid to throw their bodies around. They rank second in the league with 847 hits and have blocked 564 shots this season, which ranks third-most. The Blackhawks are the complete opposite in that department, recording the second-fewests hits with 514. It might get physical, but don't expect the Blackhawks to retaliate much.

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How Blackhawks physicality is adding new dimension to style of play

How Blackhawks physicality is adding new dimension to style of play

The Blackhawks turned in their best 60-minute effort of the young season in Monday’s 3-1 win over the Edmonton Oilers. They controlled the pace of play, got terrific goaltending from Corey Crawford and tightened up defensively.

But they also showed that they added a new layer to their team game this season.

The Blackhawks registered 36 hits against the Oilers, one of which was thunderously delivered by Andrew Shaw, sparking a scrum. Brent Seabrook led the team with six hits, Calvin de Haan had five and Drake Caggiula and Olli Maatta each had four. Heck, even Alex DeBrincat (three) and Patrick Kane (one) got in on the action.

It’s an element of their game that’s been missing the last few seasons and something they feel is important to their overall team success because it keeps other teams honest.

"I don't know if it's because of the personnel we have or the way we want to be strong and competitive and win battles, but obviously the other night we had a lot of finished hits and a lot of physicality that brings up the morale on the bench, which is a good thing," Kane said. "You look at Shawzy's hit, the stuff he's been doing early in the season — whether it's scoring big goals or sticking up for guys after they get hit — it's been awesome for the team. That's something that can really help us. We also need to play a little bit more with the puck, but it's a way we can get the puck back."

The Blackhawks don’t necessarily want to lead the NHL in the hits category, but they do want to establish an identity centered around being a difficult team to play against and adding that dimension is part of it. So is team unity.

"I don't think it's going to be our go-to in the way we're going to beat teams," Jonathan Toews said. "There's no doubt we've got guys that can mix it in. We saw last game with Shawzy and Murph, and [Ryan Carpenter] and [Zack Smith] and go down the list of guys. Even [Caggiula] and [DeBrincat] were throwing the weight around a couple days ago. It's definitely part of our game — we can play with energy and I think it's going to be there when we're ready to go. But our game is puck possession and keeping teams in their end and outplaying them in that sense.”

Through four games this season, the Blackhawks are averaging 33.0 hits per game. The previous two seasons they averaged 16.5 and 16.8, respectively, which ranked 30th.

While it's still early, there's clearly an uptick in the physicality department and it's exactly what the organization was hoping for after bringing in players like Shaw and Smith to add some bite to the roster. The Blackhawks are focused on becoming a team that can win in several different ways and play any kind of style.

"There’s a difference between running around just trying to get a tick on the stat sheet," coach Jeremy Colliton said. "But we definitely want to be physical when we have the chance and force the opposition to make plays before they're ready, and we can create turnovers and transition and offense and get out of D zone. We have some guys who like to play that way and I think it helps our team." 

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Behind the Numbers: Blackhawks third line driving possession against top competition

Behind the Numbers: Blackhawks third line driving possession against top competition

During the Blackhawks' training camp festival on Sept. 15, coach Jeremy Colliton discovered a combination he's grown to like in David Kampf, Dominik Kubalik and Brandon Saad. And it's the only trio that's stuck together through training camp and into the regular season.

On paper, it's not a sexy line. But they all bring different elements and it's translating to on-ice success.

When the three of them are on the ice together at even strength, the Blackhawks are controlling 59.7 percent of the shot attempts, 68.6 of the scoring chances and 76.9 percent of the high-danger chances, according to Natural Stat Trick. 

When they aren't on the ice at even strength? The Blackhawks are controlling 47.6 percent of the shot attempts, 46.2 percent of the scoring chances and 41.7 percent of the high-danger chances. 

Those are ridiculous numbers for a third line, and they're doing it against top competition, too.

On Saturday against Winnipeg, the Saad-Kampf-Kubalik line was tasked with going up against the Jets' Big Three of Patrik Laine, Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler and held them to three shots on goal for and three against in 14:06 of 5-on-5 ice time together. And on Monday against Edmonton, it kept one of the best lines in hockey in check, with Leon Draisaitl, Zack Kassian and Connor McDavid recording a minus-6 shot attempt differential in 15:25 of 5-on-5 ice time together.

The biggest mistake Colliton has made this season was separating the trio in the home opener after Kubalik scored a goal and recorded five shots on goal in the first period. He wanted to get the first line going and provide a spark by rewarding Kubalik, but the third line was dominant in the opening 20 minutes — it generated 10 scoring chances at 5-on-5 in only 4:30 together — and moving Kubalik away from Kampf and Saad really affected both lines in a negative way.

But don't expect Colliton to make that same mistake anytime soon. He learned his lesson and that's the last line he's going to touch if he's looking for a shakeup.

"They all just got real big motors, big engine," Colliton said. "They work and compete and they all bring a little bit different ingredient. Obviously like Saad is an accomplished, proven performer. He takes the puck to the net. He's a horse there. He's really hard to get the puck off, he transports it from D zone to the offensive zone, he can make those plays.

"I think Kampy is a workhorse. He takes a lot of responsibility defensively and can transport the puck from one end to another. Then you got Kubby, he's got a bomb. I've been very impressed with his play away from the puck. That's been a surprise for me. So now he can play on that line because he does so many responsible things. He wins a lot of races, he's a great forechecker. So, pleased with that line."

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