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3 Chicago Blackhawks To Watch Against Jagr And Co.

By Colin Likas
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Now that those who care have had time to process the Chicago Cubs being ousted from the MLB postseason, we can jump right back into hockey. The Chicago Blackhawks have been out of game action since a Saturday win against Columbus, and they’ll keep both their four-game homestand and string of Eastern Conference foes played going when the Florida Panthers visit tonight.

The masters of earning overtime-loss points in recent years, the Panthers received their first of the season Tuesday in a 3-2 extra-time defeat against Pittsburgh. That moved Florida’s record to 3-2-1, which is good for third in the Atlantic Division. Of course, it also means the Panthers have played a game far more recently than the Blackhawks, which can be an issue for the men in the Indian Head (see Philadelphia last week).

So let’s take a look at both team’s projected forward lines, defensive pairings and starting goaltenders, beginning with the Blackhawks.

Viktor TikhonovJonathan ToewsMarian Hossa

Artemi PanarinArtem AnisimovPatrick Kane

Teuvo TeravainenVincent HinostrozaRyan Garbutt

Andrew DesjardinsMarcus KrugerAndrew Shaw

Viktor SvedbergBrent Seabrook

Niklas HjalmarssonTrevor van Riemsdyk

Trevor DaleyDavid Rundblad

Corey CrawfordScott Darling

Tikhonov is getting another stab at the lottery spot on the top line after spending a few games in the press box. Bryan Bickell will instead enjoy some popcorn and a soda tonight, with Garbutt slotting in on the third line. This will be the second NHL game for Hinostroza, who’s likely hoping to be remembered for more than getting put in a headlock as time winds down, as he was Saturday.

The defensive pairings are as ugly as we could have expected, with Rundblad being forced into action due to Duncan Keith‘s knee surgery. These are probably the best pairings you could offer, though, as Daley has been pretty much useless since arriving. If the Blackhawks don’t jump out to a big lead, we may not see very much of these two, even if it is an early-season game. Seabrook was previously facing a test in playing alongside the not-so-fleet-of-foot Svedberg, but with Keith out, Seabrook will be taking on tougher assignments, which means Svedberg is along for the ride. The most-reliable pairing at this point is probably Hjammer and van Riemsdyk, as van Riemsdyk has proven to be a slightly more defensively-responsible version of Daley.

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Crawford is probably 99.9 percent to get the start tonight after a lengthy run without any games.

Let’s move on to the Panthers’ most-recent line combos.

Jonathan HuberdeauAleksander BarkovJaromir Jagr

Brandon PirriNick BjugstadReilly Smith

Jussi JokinenDave BollandVincent Trocheck

Quinton HowdenDerek MacKenzieConnor Brickley

Brian CampbellAaron Ekblad

Willie MitchellErik Gudbranson

Dmitry KulikovAlex Petrovic

Roberto LuongoAl Montoya

Everyone in this version of Florida’s lineup has at least one point except former Blackhawk Bolland. The only other player who has started for the Panthers so far who is without a point is Shawn Thornton, but that’s not surprising. What this means is the Panthers are getting some semblance of scoring from all of their lines and offensive help from all of their defensive pairings. It all starts at the top though, as Jagr is pacing the club with four goals and three assists while Barkov is bouncing back from a tough 2014-15 season with three goals and three assists so far. Offseason acquisition Smith is tied for third on the team with four points. Youth is the story here, much as it’s turning out to be in Chicago, but this group of young forwards has had time to mesh and become a relatively promising unit.

But that can be undone by the blue line, which features last year’s Calder Trophy winner in Ekblad and then a lot of question marks. Campbell can be flighty and his best years are probably behind him, Mitchell is more skilled at being an irritant than playing shutdown defense and the rest of the cast is just so-so. Blackhawks fans will remember Petrovic as the guy who laid the collarbone-breaking hit on Kane last season, so there’s that.

The Panthers are lucky enough to have Bobby Lu in net, however, and he’s been pretty close to lights out. With a 2.01 goals-against average and .941 save percentage, it’s amazing he has just a 2-2-1 record. He’ll very likely receive the start tonight.

So who are some Blackhawks to watch for in tonight’s affair? Glad you asked.

Oct 15, 2015; Washington, DC, USA; Chicago Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews (19) argues a call with referee Francois St. Laurent (38) against the Washington Capitals in the second period at Verizon Center. The Capitals won 4-1. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Jonathan Toews

I’ve mostly avoided putting Toews and linemate Hossa in this spot on my previews because I’ve assumed they’ll snap out of the early-season funk they’re both experiencing. But things just haven’t gone right so far for the two and their revolving door of a linemate, as the Toews-Hossa duo has combined for six assists but just one goal. Toews had this to say to the Chicago Sun-Times’ Mark Lazerus today:

So the captain may try to get the puck directly to the net more often starting tonight, and that’d be a scary sign for Luongo and the defensemen in front of him. When Toews wants to get the puck to the net, there often aren’t many people who can stop him. Being alongside Hossa helps in that mission, as the winger always knows how to make space for himself and his teammates. And you know Tikhonov would like to cement his status on the top line (or any line for that matter) while also cracking the scoresheet. So Toews is really set up to pile up goals sooner rather than later. The onus now falls on him, and for a team that is missing a big offensive facilitator in Keith, it’d be nice to see Toews get hot.

Oct 17, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford (50) makes save during the third period against the Columbus Blue Jackets at the United Center. Chicago won 4-1. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Corey Crawford

So you want to silence the portion of the fanbase that refuses to believe in you despite having won two Stanley Cups? Here’s your opportunity. Crow will be playing behind a pretty makeshift defense for awhile, either until Keith returns or the Blackhawks make a move for someone. It would benefit both Crow and the Blackhawks for the goaltender to find that magic he’s displayed throughout his career (especially during the 2013 regular season and the team’s two Cup runs) and bring it to the crease every night for the foreseeable future. Crow is probably going to be seeing a lot more rubber over the next several weeks, and with the Blackhawks off to a slow start in a division that punishes such things, he’ll need to stop as much of it as possible. It’d provide a solid boost to the rest of the team, especially the younger defensemen who are probably deathly worried about making an error with Keith on the sideline.

Oct 10, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook (7) celebrates with teammates after scoring against the New York Islanders during the third period at United Center. The Blackhawks won 4-1. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Brent Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarsson

Yeah, I’m cheating again on the “three Blackhawks.” Sue me. Keith was the guy whose name you’d say before anyone else’s when discussing the Blackhawks’ blue line, but now that honor will fall to either Seabrook or Hjalmarsson. Or both of them. Seabrook is often discussed as a crucial presence in the Chicago locker room, but he’s going to have to more-visibly bring that to the ice moving forward. And while Hjalmarsson is a shutdown defensive defenseman, he’s also a quiet type who doesn’t necessarily seek out the spotlight. And it’s going to be thrust upon him with Keith out. These two will be carrying a weak defensive corps for awhile, and how they handle that assignment can go a long way toward the number of wins the Blackhawks rack up in the next four to six weeks. That assignment starts tonight.

Next: Blackhawks' Duncan Keith Trade Replacements

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