Illinois notes: Bulletin board material, Scheelhaase to start

895161.png

Illinois notes: Bulletin board material, Scheelhaase to start

CHAMPAIGN There are 22 Illinois football players who have played their first minutes for the team this year and none of them are named Ryan Nowicki. But the offensive lineman was a hot issue at Mondays press conference, however.

Nowicki's recruitment from Penn State after the fallout from the Jerry Sandusky scandal has hardly registered for Illinois so far this season, but it has clearly riled up the Nittany Lions faithful.

Illinois head coach Tim Beckman was asked multiple times by reporters covering Penn State whether he regretted the recruitment or if he would have done things differently in hindsight. He remained committed to his actions, which were allowed by the NCAA.

We were contacted by a young man prior to anything happening and we pursued him, he said. This game was developed for opportunityI regret that this ended up being this much and is still talked about, but it did give a young man an opportunity to make a decision on what he wanted to do.

Nowickis decision to join the Illini, though, has become a hot-button issue around State College and some reporters indicated it would be a motivating factor for Penn State ahead of their game in Champaign on Saturday. Beckman was not interested in using the issue to fire up his team and dismissed it as a big motivator against the Nittany Lions.

This is our first opportunity to play in the Big 10. Our ultimate goal is play in the Big 10 Championship, he said. Im not big into bulletin board stuff, never have been, its about preparing the players and getting them excited to play.

The players, likewise, downplayed the role of bulletin board material as a motivator for their opponent.

Bulletin board can amp you up during the week, but at the end of the day, its about executing," Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase said. "Its about getting on the field and after the first hit, the first series, I doubt theyll be talking crap about what was going on in July. Theyll be concerned about whats going on on the field and so will we."

Other players available to the media said much the same. Illini tight end Jon Davis said he had never heard of Ryan Nowicki before the recruitment and that his transfer to Illinois was a nonfactor.

Wide receiver Ryan Lankford said he keeps all things not related to the game at arms length to keep his mind right for Saturdays.

Im not interested in the politics of the game, its not my thing," Lankford said. "Im not trying to downplay Penn State, but this is just another game."

Scheelhaase will start on Saturday

Nathan Scheelhaase is our starting quarterback, Beckman said on Monday, mixing no words.

After pulling the junior before the end of the first quarter against Louisiana Tech, the quarterback position at Illinois seemed to be up in the air. But Beckman put to rest on Monday the notion that Scheelhaase could have lost his job because of a couple bad plays in his first game back from injury, stating absolutely that the two-time bowl winner would be behind center as long as he remained healthy.

The decision to remove Scheelhaase in the La. Tech game was made by Beckman solely for the safety of his quarterback, he said.

If you watched that game, the first hit Nathan took was a big hit. He got high-lowed from both sides and I was a bit concerned, as a coach and as a guy, I hope, is like a father. I want to make sure everybody is 100 percent, he said. We havent gotten on the field to practice, so I havent seen him yet this week. But since Scheelhaase first got injured there is no question hes improved.

Scheelhaase said that he felt good on Saturday, like he had established a rhythm and was moving well. He also said that he understood the coachs decision, and while it was hard to watch from the sidelines, he was willing to do what he needed to for the team to be its best.

The junior quarterback also said he feels like he is back where he needs to be, in terms of physical fitness and has regained the mobility he might have lacked last week.

Theres been a dramatic difference in my ankles health every weekend, honestly. Yesterday, when we had our lift and run, its felt as good as its felt," said. "I was making all of my times with ease on our run, which was good to see, because I havent really had that burst of speed that early in the week."

Fast Break Morning Update: Josh Sitton named to Pro Bowl; Blackhawks-Lightning on CSN

Fast Break Morning Update: Josh Sitton named to Pro Bowl; Blackhawks-Lightning on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks host Lightning tonight on CSN

CSN will air six Cubs spring training games in 2017

Cubs' Carl Edwards Jr. looks to follow in Mariano Rivera's footsteps

NBA Buzz: With trade deadline looming, Bulls' season at a crossroads

Bears' Josh Sitton finds fourth Pro Bowl most meaningful yet

Report: Cubs preparing to roll the dice with Brett Anderson

Extra incentive fuels Tanner Kero in second stint with Blackhawks

Four top prospects among 19 players invited to White Sox big league camp

NBA Insiders Notebook: Trade rumors heating up

Five B1G-gest things: Indiana wins first game without Anunoby, Michigan 'white collar' no more

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks host Lightning tonight on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks host Lightning tonight on CSN

Watch as the Blackhawks take on the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com. 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. Grab the first goal.

The Blackhawks have scored the game's first goal in seven of the last eight games, and of those seven, they've won six of them. Meanwhile, the Lightning have scored the first goal only 17 times in 48 games this season, and are 12-5-1 in those games. They're 9-17-4 when they allow the first goal, so getting out to a lead first will be important against a struggling Lightning team looking for signs of life.

2. Will the floodgates open for Jonathan Toews?

After a four-point game in a 4-2 win over Vancouver, the Blackhawks captain matched his point total over his previous nine games. He's up to 26 points on the season, which is now fifth among Chicago forwards. When Toews has offensive droughts, they usually last longer than they should. But when he gets hot, he gets extremely hot. Perhaps we'll see the floodgates open offensively.

3. A chance for the team lead in scoring.

With an empty-net goal on Sunday, Marian Hossa tied Artem Anisimov for the team-lead with 18 goals. Artemi Panarin is right behind with 17, and Patrick Kane isn't far either at 15. The Blackhawks had four 20-goal scorers last season, and haven't had more than that since the 2013-14 season. They're definitely on pace to hit four, but could they surprass that? Richard Panik, who scored another goal Sunday as well, is fifth with 11 goals while Ryan Hartman has 10. Toews is at eight, but a flurry after a drought could make things interesting.

4. The triplets reunited?

In an effort to jumpstart a struggling offense, Lightning coach Jon Cooper reunited the triplets line of Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat that was so successful during their 2015 playoff run in their latest game, a 5-3 loss to Arizona. It's unclear whether they will begin tonight's game on the same line, but if not, it's worth watching throughout the game whether they do. The Blackhawks have been coming at opponents in waves lately, so Cooper could look to separate the three to distribute the scoring.

5. Take advantage on special teams.

The Lightning have racked up the fifth-most penalty minutes in the league, and own a bottom-10 penalty kill unit at 80.1 percent. The Blackhawks are the second-least penalized team, and have converted on 17.9 percent of their power plays, which sits at 16th. But they haven't scored one on the man advantage in five straight games, going 0-for-9 during that span. Here's a chance to change that.

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

- Check out the latest stats and standings to make sure you’re ready for action

- Channel Finder: Make sure you know where to watch

- NBC Sports App FAQ: All your questions answered

- Latest on the Blackhawks: All of the most recent news and notes

- See what Blackhawks fans are talking about before, during and after the game with Blackhawks Pulse