Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks aim to stay hot vs. Canucks tonight on CSN Plus

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks aim to stay hot vs. Canucks tonight on CSN Plus

Watch as the Blackhawks take on the Vancouver Canucks tonight on CSN Plus 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. Jonathan Toews heating up again.

The Blackhawks captain went through a difficult stretch offensively towards the middle part of the season, and broke through when he had one goal and three assists in a 4-2 win over Vancouver on Jan. 22. Since then, only Brad Marchand (35) and Patrick Kane (32) have had more points than Toews (31). He extended his point streak to four games with a two-goal effort in Sunday's 6-3 victory over Colorado, and will look to keep it going tonight.

2. Canucks banged up.

The Canucks have lost six straight games, and it's not helping that players are dropping like flies as the season winds down. Loui Eriksson remains out with a leg injury. Erik Gudbranson (wrist) has been out since December. Brendan Gaunce (upper-body injury) and Jacob Markstrom (food poisoning) didn't travel to Chicago. Nikolay Goldobin is battling an illness. And Markus Granlund, who ranks second on the team with 19 goals, has been shut down for the season to undergo wrist surgery. They're a vulnerable group right now.

3. Take advantage on special teams.

Special teams hasn't been a kind area for the Canucks this season. Their power play is the third-worst unit in the league at 13.8 percent, and their penalty kill unit ranks 26th with a 77.6 percent success rate. The good news for the Canucks is that they're one of the least-penalized teams, but when they do go down a man, it's often trouble. They're 3-for-6 on the PK in their last three games, having allowed one in each of them.

4. Nick Schmaltz showing improvement at the dot?

Since moving to center for the injured Artem Anisimov, Schmaltz is 10-for-50 at the faceoff circle, which comes out to be a 20 percent success rate. His season percentage has slipped to 28.9, by far the lowest total among players who have taken at least 200 attempts. He showed some improvement in that department Sunday against Colorado when he went 5-for-15 (33.3 percent) after going 5-for-35 (14.3 percent) in the previous three games. Progress.

5. Richard Panik approaching 20 goals.

With a goal on Sunday, Panik increased his career-high goal total to 19; his previous season-high was 11, set in 2014-15. One more goal puts him at 20, which would make him the sixth Blackhawks player this season to reach the 20-goal mark. Ryan Hartman isn't far away, either, from potentially making it a seventh. They had only four 20-goal scorers last season. 

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Blackhawks notebook: A busy draft, free agency and RFAs

Blackhawks notebook: A busy draft, free agency and RFAs

Eight draft picks in about 3 ½ hours. It was a busy Saturday for the Blackhawks, and when general manager Stan Bowman talked that afternoon about the team’s Day 2 haul, he came prepared.

“I have my little cheat sheet,” Bowman said of the paper on which he had written the Blackhawks’ eight newest prospects.

After a few days’ worth of moves the Blackhawks focused on the future, taking nine players over two days at the NHL Draft. It was a successful weekend for the Blackhawks, who hosted the draft for the first time and built up assets, especially on the blue line. Five of the Blackhawks’ nine selections were defensemen.

“One of the things we talked about was looking at the market. There’s a high value on defensemen. We’re not necessarily looking at the draft but our team this year and over the next couple of years; those are the assets that are valuable around the league,” Bowman said. “Look at the trade Calgary made [for Travis Hamonic], defensemen are a valuable commodity. That was a priority coming in and we were able to accomplish it.”

What comes next

The Blackhawks got what they wanted at this weekend’s draft but the focus will soon shift, as free agency opens on July 1. It remains to be seen what the Blackhawks will have cap-wise come a week from now. Currently, according to CapFriendly.com, they’re $1.445 million over the $75 million cap. It’s doubtful the Blackhawks apply the long-term injured reserve tag on Marian Hossa during the offseason. It’s possible they could still trade Marcus Kruger to gain some space. Bowman said, one way or another, “there will be some movement.”

“We’ll bring some players in, I don’t know how many, what position or what level,” he said. “This is where there’s a lot of activity, the couple weeks in the middle of June until the middle of July. That’s when the most changes happen. We’ll go to work, now that we’re past this.”

Wait for it

The Blackhawks also have to decide whether or not to qualify restricted free agents Dennis Rasmussen and Tomas Jurco. Bowman said that’ll be decided by Monday.

“I’ve had discussions with both agents,” he said. “I don’t have an answer right now but we’ll have that worked out in the next day and a half.”

Niklas Hjalmarsson reflects on time with Blackhawks: 'I had the best time in Chicago'

Niklas Hjalmarsson reflects on time with Blackhawks: 'I had the best time in Chicago'

Niklas Hjalmarsson heard some of the rumors, but not to a large degree. The former Blackhawks defenseman wasn’t spending a lot of time on the internet reading up on his potential fate. He figured he’d still stay put in Chicago.

“But when my agent called me about the 10-team list, I understood it was serious. Stan [Bowman] wouldn’t ask for that unless they made up their mind already,” Hjalmarsson said via conference call on Saturday. “That’s when it hit me that I’m probably not going to put the Hawks jersey on anymore.”

Indeed, Hjalmarsson’s next jersey will be that of the Arizona Coyotes, who acquired him in exchange for defenseman Connor Murphy on Friday. Hjalmarsson’s departure marks the end of the line for another Blackhawks core player, and this one is jarring in how it will change the team’s defense.

Speaking of change, Hjalmarsson faces a lot of it himself now. Sure, there’s the obvious change for a guy who’s played his entire career in one place. It’s new surroundings and a new team, on which he knows former Blackhawks teammate Antti Raanta and fellow countryman Oliver Ekman-Larsson.

But the Coyotes have dealt with a lot of upheaval lately. Goaltender Mike Smith is gone. So is veteran Shane Doan. On Thursday, head coach Dave Tippett and the Coyotes parted ways.

“They’re on a rebuild, a lot of new faces, lot of changes,” Hjalmarsson said. “It’s tough to know what to expect but I think they’re a hungry organization that wants to win like other teams. I’m looking forward to try to contribute with playing my game, just try to get the organization back in the playoffs.”

Hjalmarsson should find chemistry with Ekman-Larsson – the two were teammates in the Winter Olympics in Sochi – and Hjalmarsson will likely play a bigger role with the Coyotes. Arizona will probably look to Hjalmarsson a lot during its rebuild, given his Cup-winning history.

The first 24 hours were full of mixed emotions of Hjalmarsson. With his limited no-move clause, he was always a likely candidate to be moved from a Blackhawks team laden will full no-move clauses. He’s turning a page, but he won’t forget his time in Chicago anytime soon.

“I’m trying to always be a positive guy,” Hjalmarsson said. “I spent my whole 20s in Chicago, 10 unbelievable years. I didn’t think I’d win three Cups. Hopefully I can get one more before my career is over. I had the best time in Chicago, enjoyed every single year, playing in front of the best fans in the league. I’ve been spoiled. Now it’s time for me and my family to move on and seize the opportunity in Arizona and create some new fond memories.”