After much-needed break, Blackhawks better be ready

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After much-needed break, Blackhawks better be ready

The Blackhawks will go their separate ways for the next few days. Some will stick around town. Some will head to their hometowns. Some will head to warmer locales.

But one thing is certain: they all have to come back focused and ready to go for the final stretch run. And they have to come back ready to do it in some unfriendly places.

The Blackhawks didnt go into the break the way they wouldve liked, suffering two straight losses to the division-rival Nashville Predators. But thats in the past. With 32 games remaining, the Blackhawks need to shore up some inconsistencies and stake their claim to one of the Western Conferences top spots.

Weve got to get away a little bit. But this is all about getting rest and making sure were ready to go the last 32 games, Duncan Keith said. I think thats what everybody needs to use this break for is to rest up, get strong and make sure were taking care of ourselves and feeling good when we come back.

Theyll need to be, because the schedule out of the break is a daunting one. The Blackhawks face a mammoth nine-game road trip beginning with Northwest front-runner Vancouver on Jan. 31. Other opponents include the division rival Predators against whom the Blackhawks are now 1-2-0 this season the Easts best New York Rangers and Pacific leader San Jose.

Its not a fun schedule. Yes, the Blackhawks will get home twice to break up the three-week trek across the country. But between the travel and the opponents, its going to be a taxing three weeks nonetheless.

Its going to be a lot tougher going on the road now, going out west. Its not going to be easy, Dave Bolland said. The breaks going to be good for us to recharge and get our batteries back.

Itll also be good if they can get two of their best players back. Jonathan Toews (left armhand) and Patrick Sharp (wrist) will be on the Blackhawks trip to Vancouver at the end of January. They could play in that game, or soon after. Having this week off gives both a chance to get a little healthier.

Crunch time is just about here. The Blackhawks have a few days to get away from the daily grind, rest and heal. Come Monday, theyre back in the Western Conference fight.

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Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks return home to face Coyotes tonight on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks return home to face Coyotes tonight on CSN

Watch as the Blackhawks take on the Arizona Coyotes 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. Schmaltz-Toews-Panik.

There might not be a hotter line in hockey right now than the Blackhawks' trio of Nick Schmaltz, Jonathan Toews and Richard Panik. They combined for five goals and five assists — highlighted by a hat trick and five-point effort from Toews — in Tuesday's 5-3 win over Minnesota, and were hot before that. Toews has 21 points in his last 12 games. Schmaltz has seven points in his last six, while Panik has nine points in his past six. Is Joel Quenneville simply riding the hot hand or could this be a line that sticks together for a while even when they inevitably cool off?

2. Can power play get going again?

The Blackhawks are 0-for-8 on the power play in their last three games after converting on six of their previous 14 attempts. They went 2-for-4 during their last meeting, which resulted in a 4-3 victory. Arizona has allowed at least a power play goal in six of their last 10 games, including three of their last four, and owns a bottom-five penalty kill unit at 77.1 percent. If that area gets going for the Blackhawks, look out. 

3. Marian Hossa's recent success vs. Arizona.

Hossa has six goals and three assists in his last six games against the Coyotes dating back to 2014-15, recording at least a point in each of those games, and helping lead the Blackhawks to a 5-0-1 record. He's scored a goal in each of those last three, and will look to continue his success against an Arizona team whose 49 points ranked second-to-last in the NHL.

4. Martin Hanzal heating up as trade deadline nears.

The 30-year-old center has five goals in his last six contests, and will be a hot commodity over the next week as the March 1 trade deadline approaches. He could be an option for the Blackhawks if they want to bolster their center depth, but it's looking more and more unlikely as the asking price will be high and there will be many bidders. Expect a tweak more than a large addition.

5. Artemi Panarin quietly heating up.

Due to the emergence of Schmaltz-Toews-Panik that has been earning all the attention, Panarin is flying under the radar as of late. He has nine points in his last eight games that's gotten lost in the shuffle, and is tied for 16th in the league in scoring. He's only three points away from re-entering the top-10. And there's a chance he could have a big night. In five career games against Arizona, the 25-year-old Russian winger has two goals and six assists. That's an average of 1.60 points per game.

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