Oduya 'makes plays forwards can dream of'

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Oduya 'makes plays forwards can dream of'

Patrick Kane was talking about the Blackhawks defense against the Ottawa Senators on Friday night when the compliment to its newest member came.

This (Johnny) Oduya can make plays that forwards can dream of, Kane said. Coming up the ice with speed, he jumps in; he seems to be real smooth and fits in perfect with our team. Hes another guy who can jump in the play. Its nice to have a guy like that; it adds a little more balance with our D.

Yes, its only been two games for Oduya, but the Blackhawks are appreciating what hes bringing. Oduya has provided speed, veteran presence and solid minutes for a Blackhawks team that needed it.

Its huge. It showed last night in all the things he can do defensively and in getting the puck to our offensive players hands, said Duncan Keith. Hes got good skill. Hes been around, hes smart and he can help us a bunch of different ways.

Taking up minutes was a big part of that; Oduya played nearly 20 against Toronto and over 22 against the Ottawa Senators on Friday night. Oduyas had to adjust quickly from his time with the Jets.

We were more of a checking group (in Winnipeg), not much skill up front, obviously. And this is a more skilled team where, for me, I can try to get into plays more, Oduya said. Its important to move the puck up quick to the forwards. They have a lot of speed to get open.

Hence Kanes adulation with Oduyas style, which seems to fit in more with the Blackhawks: speed, movement and show off that skill.

Hes got a lot of poise, patience to his game, said coach Joel Quenneville, who put Oduya with Nick Leddy and reunited Keith and Brent Seabrook during the Toronto game. Hes got some reliability, predictability and steadiness. In two games we really like the addition. You looked at our needs (at the deadline), we talked about this and that; defenseman was something we could use and hes fit in perfectly.

Oduya will keep learning. Right now hes sharing quality minutes with his fellow veteran defensemen and taking the pressure off some of those guys. Its only two games, but its been a good start.

Its a little bit different style of game, more possession than checking maybe, I knew it would take some getting used to but I feel pretty comfortable, Oduya said. As long as we keep winning games Im happy.

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.

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TSN coaches poll: Wild favored to win West over Blackhawks

TSN coaches poll: Wild favored to win West over Blackhawks

The Blackhawks have won three Stanley Cups since 2010, and have eliminated the Minnesota Wild from the playoffs three times from 2013-15.

But it's the Wild that NHL coaches believe will win the Western Conference this season as we approach the trade deadline.

In his annual midseason poll, TSN's Bob McKenzie surveyed 25 of 30 coaches to vote on multiple categories, such as the league's best player and the team most likely to win it all.

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According to the survey, 11 coaches predicted the Wild will win the West while the Blackhawks and Sharks tied for second with four votes.

As for winning the Stanley Cup, the Washington Capitals are the favorite, earning 10 votes, followed closely by the reigning champion Pittsburgh Penguins with eight. The Wild and Blackhawks rounded out the poll with three and two votes, respectively.

Joel Quenneville earned one vote as the NHL's best coach, which is three fewer votes than he had last year, despite this year being arguably his most challenging — and best — coaching job since arriving in Chicago, given the youth on the roster.