Vikings game a test for Emery GM efforts

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Vikings game a test for Emery GM efforts

Besides its obvious playoff implications, the Bears-Minnesota Vikings game on Sunday becomes a spot referendum on the first year of general manager Phil Emery.
One of Emerys clear missions in his first stint as a GM was to muscle up the Bears depth chart from its level of 2011 that cost the Bears a playoff berth.
In addition to draft choices and a trade (Brandon Marshall):Quarterback: Jason Campbell for Caleb Hanie.

Running back: Michael Bush for Marion Barber.

Offensive line: Chilo Rachal for Frank Omiyale, Jonathan Scott for Chris Williams.

Linebacker: Geno Hayes for everybody.

Cornerback: Kelvin Hayden for D.J. Moore, Zackary Bowman (Bowman has since been brought back).

Not all of the moves have worked, for various reasons. But a key to the Bears regaining some momentum in a playoff direction now will depend on significant contributions from Hayes and Hayden in particular, and on Scott.

During the course of the year youre going to be playing without players for a brief period of time, said coach Lovie Smith. We thought we would get lucky being this late in the year but thats not the case.

Hayden will start for injured Tim Jennings. Hayes starts at strong-side linebacker with Nick Roach sliding into Brian Urlachers spot. Scott is tasked with controlling the rush of Minnesota Vikings end Brian Robison (5.5 sacks) in quarterback Jay Cutlers face.

Sharp corner

Hayden replaces a virtual Pro Bowl lock in Jennings, with his eight interceptions. The Vikings are without franchise wide receiver Percy Harvin and are the worst passing offense in the NFL (just ahead of the Bears).

More importantly, one reason Hayden already had replaced D.J. Moore at nickel back was because of more size and physicality, which becomes an added asset against an offense built around running back Adrian Peterson.

The situation thats at hand, you dont wish that upon anybody, said Hayden, who signed with the Bears for one year and is playing for his future. Its always good to be out there every play, out there having fun, making plays and enjoying the moment.

If a guy goes down on the second play of the game, you want to be prepared and ready to go. Thats my whole job is just to be ready when my number is called. Im going to try to continue to do the same.

Ironically, Hayden and Jennings were once teammates with the Indianapolis Colts. Jennings has 61 career starts, Hayden 47.

Hayes happening

Hayes started 42 games with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, in a defensive system similar to the Bears. Like Hayden, he signed for one year and is getting his first Chicago start.

Its a great opportunity, Hayes said. Anytime you get the opportunity to step on the field and make plays, its always that chance youve got to go out there and take something. Its big.

I try not to think about his contract situation. I just want to go out there and play ball. Contract and that stuff is for after season. Right now, all Ive got to do is go out there and do my job. Thats all Im here to do.

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Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks battle Bruins tonight on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks battle Bruins tonight on CSN

Watch as the Blackhawks take on the Boston Bruins 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.

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. Scott Darling gets the nod.

Joel Quenneville is giving a struggling Corey Crawford a breather tonight, electing to go with Darling in the final game of the father's road trip. Darling is 11-4-2 with a 2.34 goals against average, .924 save percentage and one shutout in 20 games this season. His numbers aren't as great on the road, where he is 4-2-1 with a 2.83 GAA and .901 save percentage compared to a 7-2-1 record with a 1.98 GAA and .928 save percentage at home, but he fared well against Boston last season. The Lemont native stopped 42 of 46 shots, good for a .913 save percentage, in a 6-4 win at the United Center last April.

2. The Panarin-Anisimov-Kane line.

The Blackhawks' trio of Artem Anisimov, Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin had a rare zero points in Tuesday's 6-4 win over Colorado, but don't expect to see that again. In fact, it could be the opposite. In their last meeting against the Bruins, a 6-4 win on April 3 during the 2015-16 season, they combined for 11 points (five goals, six assists), highlighted by a Kane hat trick that put him at 100 points on the season for the first time in his career. 

3. How the rookies build off a monsterous game.

In arguably the most well-rounded victory of the season Tuesday in Colorado, the Blackhawks had three rookies that had multi-point efforts. Vinnie Hinostroza had two goals, including the game winner. Tanner Kero had two goals and one assist, while Nick Schmaltz also had a goal and an assist. It was the top-six that was doing the heavy lifting earlier in the season, now the bottom-six is slowly starting to contribute on a consistent basis. The Blackhawks will be in great shape if they can confidently roll four lines that have the potential to find the back of the net on any given shift.

4. Patrice Bergeron vs. Jonathan Toews.

Two of the best two-way centers in the league will go head-to-head, and it's always a fun matchup to watch. Bergeron leads the league with 597 faceoff wins, and is ranked fifth with a 58.4 percentage at the dot while Toews ranks eighth in wins with 473 — despite missing nine games with a back injury — and sits at sixth with a 57.5 percentage. Both of the perennial Selke Trophy candidates have struggled offensively this season, with Bergeron recording only 21 points in 45 games and Toews with 22 points in 38 contests. Bergeron has been heating up as of late, though, scoring three goals and six assists in his last eight games. Bergeron also leads the league in possession numbers, with the Bruins controlling 61.9 percent of the even-strength shot attempts when he's on the ice.

5. Brad Marchand.

In September, Marchand inked an eight-year, $49 million deal and it's already paying dividends for the Bruins. He has 14 points (seven goals, seven assists) in his last eight games, and 45 points total, which is by far the most on his team and tied for sixth in the NHL. He's 16 points away from tying his career high of 61 set last season, with a little less than half the year to go. He's also had great success against the Blackhawks. In his last six games against Chicago, dating back to the 2013-14 campaign, he has registered at least a point in all of them, scoring four goals and adding five assists. To make life more difficult, he's a player that enjoys getting under people's skin, so expect him to be a big factor tonight.

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