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3 Chicago Blackhawks To Watch Against Ovechkin And Co.

By Colin Likas
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Well, last night certainly didn’t go according to plan for the Chicago Blackhawks.

Facing a clearly inferior foe on the first half of a back-to-back, the Blackhawks laid an egg against the host Philadelphia Flyers in a 3-0 defeat. The Blackhawks seemed dazed and confused for the first 45 game minutes, just going through the motions while not letting the Flyers get too far away. But by the time the men in the Indian Head turned it on — they outshot the Flyers 15-6 in the third period — it was too late, as goaltender Michal Neuvirth turned in his second consecutive shutout.

Corey Crawford kept his team in the game with some impressive saves throughout, but his statline will wind up reading “one loss, three goals allowed on 29 shots.” Some help from his teammates certainly would have been appreciated.

So hopefully the Blackhawks step up their play tonight against the Washington Capitals, who are surrounded by hype but don’t have much to show for it at this point. Granted, they’ve played just two games, but a 5-3 home win against a bad New Jersey team certainly couldn’t have inspired much confidence, and a 5-0 defeat against San Jose certainly wasn’t what the Caps had in mind for Game 2.

We have no Blackhawks lines at the moment, and I wouldn’t be confident in saying they’ll be the same as they were at the start of last night’s game. They weren’t even the same by the end of that affair, as Joel Quenneville went to his blender to try and get some sort of a response from his guys. With the lottery spot on the left wing next to Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa currently a revolving door, Q decided to throw one more name into the mix: Viktor Tikhonov. He wound up with four shots on net, tying Toews (and Bryan Bickell) for second-most shots among the Blackhawks last night (Trevor Daley had five). He impressed Doc Emrick, Eddie Olczyk and Pierre McGuire on the NBC Sports Network broadcast during his brief stint with the captain and Hossa, so perhaps he’ll see more time there tonight.

We do know that Scott Darling will start tonight for Crawford, a predetermined decision on the second half of the back-to-back.

After the stinker in the city of brotherly love, we could also see Kyle Baun return to the lineup, though it wouldn’t be clear who he’d replace. Maybe Ryan Garbutt? Hopefully not Tikhonov after a solid game last night. Probably not Bickell after he was actually visible in a game, and in a good way, too.

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The most-recent Capitals lines and combos look like this:

Alex OvechkinEvgeny KuznetsovT.J. Oshie

Marcus JohanssonAndre BurakovskyJustin Williams

Jason ChimeraJay BeagleTom Wilson

Brooks Laich-Chandler Stephenson-Stanislav Galiev

Brooks OrpikJohn Carlson

Karl AlznerMatt Niskanen

Dmitri Orlov-Taylor Chorney

Braden HoltbyPhilipp Grubauer

Do you understand why this team received so much positive attention in the offseason? Just look at that. Sure, when Nicklas Backstrom returns (hip surgery), things will look a little more rosy. But a first line with Oshie? A second line with Williams? A third line with Beagle and Wilson? And a defense led by Orpik? What exactly is there to be happy about in Washington?

Whatever it is, the Blackhawks need to find a way to defeat it tonight, lest they risk falling to 2-3-0 on the season. With the strength the Central Division possesses, dropping points early in the season is not a good way to start a Stanley Cup defense.

With all of that said, let’s look at three Blackhawks to watch tonight.

Jun 15, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks center

Marcus Kruger

(16) skates with the puck against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the third period in game six of the 2015 Stanley Cup Final at United Center. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Marcus Kruger

Kruger was the only member of the Andrew Shaw-Kruger-Garbutt fourth line to see more than 10 minutes of ice time last night, clocking 12:46. A lot of that probably had to do with the Blackhawks showing a total lack of discipline throughout the evening in committing five minor penalties. That kept Kruger on the ice for more penalty killing than even-strength shutdown defense. But he’ll likely get an interesting assignment at certain times tonight in defending against the Ovechkin line. The Russian was held from the Caps’ most-recent game for oversleeping a morning skate, but he had two points on the team’s opening night. Meanwhile, Oshie and Kuznetsov have a big ol’ bagel as far as points and have combined for a minus-3 rating. Oshie is overrated, but you still don’t want to give him space to play with the puck or shoot at Darling. Kuznetsov is a talented youngster who you would also rather not give time and space to. So if Kruger and his cohorts get trotted out against this trio and play well, it could signal a good evening for the Blackhawks.

Oct 14, 2015; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Chicago Blackhawks defenseman

Viktor Svedberg

(43) battles with Philadelphia Flyers center

Sam Gagner

(89) during the second period at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Viktor Svedberg

If Svedberg has anything more he can show Q and Co., it’s probably time for him to start bringing it night in and night out. The signing of Kyle Cumiskey this morning indicates the Blackhawks aren’t totally comfortable waiting for Svedberg to find his legs at the NHL level. Svedberg hasn’t been atrocious on the blue line, but he’s been what you’d expect from a guy seeing his first sustained big-league time. And also what you’d expect when his partner is either one of three guys who haven’t stopped skating since January 2013 or one of Trevor van Riemsdyk or Daley. Still, Svedberg is one of the organization’s highly touted defensive prospects, so he’s going to have to start finding his footing sooner rather than later. Step one for that mission can begin tonight.

Oct 7, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; New York Rangers left wing

Rick Nash

(61) controls the puck against Chicago Blackhawks defenseman

Niklas Hjalmarsson

(4) in the second period at United Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

Niklas Hjalmarsson

Solely from watching last night’s game, I’m a little concerned about Hjalmarsson. He seemed off with his decision-making and just a step behind on multiple plays, both while playing the puck and while trying to stop an opponent from handling it. This is one of the reasons it’d be nice for the Blackhawks to rack up a fair number of points early: rest opportunities. It sure wouldn’t hurt to give the likes of Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Hjalmarsson a night off here or there. They were skated hard in the 2015 postseason, and they’re still going to be skated hard (by regular-season standards) out of the gate in 2015-16 because of how the Blackhawks’ blue line is currently constructed. So on the second night of a road back-to-back, and one night after playing a relatively physical Flyers outfit, I’ll be interested to see how Hjalmarsson looks. He’s the defensive defenseman to end all defensive defensemen, so when things start going wonky for him on the back end, you know the Blackhawks have an issue on their hands.

Next: Quenneville's Top-Line Auditions Are Failing

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