Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks look to avoid season sweep vs. Jets tonight on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks look to avoid season sweep vs. Jets tonight on CSN

Watch as the Blackhawks take on the Winnipeg Jets tonight on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com. Coverage begins at 6:30 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. One last crack.

In four meetings this season, the Jets have taken eight of eight points from the Blackhawks, with three of those wins coming at the United Center. In those games, the Blackhawks have been outscored 14-5, their most recent a 5-3 loss in which they squandered a third-period lead by allowing three unanswered goals. Chicago will gets its final stab at Winnipeg tonight, and look to avoid the season sweep.

 

2. Can new top line sustain success?

The first line of Nick Schmaltz, Jonathan Toews and Richard Panik was terrific in Wednesday's 4-3 overtime win over the Minnesota Wild. The trio combined for three goals and three assists, with Toews potting the game winner. The Blackhawks captain now has five goals and seven assists in his last eight games, matching his point total in his previous 26 contests. Getting contributions from this line is key. Let's see if it continues, and how long it lasts.

3. Is Corey Crawford back?

Before undergoing an emergency appendectomy on Dec. 3, Crawford was among the league's best goaltenders in many statistical categories. Since his return on Dec. 23, he hasn't been that great, owning a 9-7-1 record in 17 starts and finishing with an .894 save percentage in December. He turned in arguably his best performance since returning by stopping 35 of 38 shots in a 4-3 overtime win over Minnesota, stealing not only one point for the Blackhawks, but two while preventing the Wild to get an extra one. It would've been a four-point swing with a regulation loss to a team that leads the Central Division by five points and has two games in hand. 

4. Blackhawks power play heating up.

After going 1-for-20 (5 percent) on the power play in their previous eight games, the Blackhawks have scored at least one goal on the man advantage in their last three games, all of which have resulted in wins. They're 4-for-8 during that span, good for a 50 percent success rate. Their season total has improved to 18.9, which ranks 16th in the league.

5. So is Winnipeg's.

Like Chicago, the Jets have been cashing in on their power play chances as of late. They've scored a goal on the man advantage in four of their last five games, and it's helped them win three straight games for the first time all season. Winnipeg is 4-for-13 (30.8 percent) during that span, bumping their overall percentage to 18.6, a notch below the Blackhawks for 17th.

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Tanner Kero latest to try and fill Artem Anisimov's skates

Tanner Kero latest to try and fill Artem Anisimov's skates

PITTSBURGH – Tanner Kero's been thrown into a lot of different situations in his time with the Blackhawks, be it third- or fourth-line center or penalty kill.

But with Artem Anisimov out, the second-line center spot has become new top-line, left-wing spot: The Blackhawks will keep trying guys out until they find one that works. Kero's the latest to get that opportunity, and since it worked well on Monday, he'll be there again on Wednesday.

Kero will center Artemi Panarin and Patrick Kane again when the Blackhawks host the Pittsburgh Penguins. The line had a good start to Monday's game against the Lightning in Tampa, scoring the team's first two goals — Kero assisted on Panarin's opener.

Coach Joel Quenneville liked Kero's first go-around there.

"Defensively he's in a good spot — he's usually in a reliable spot in his own end — he made a couple of nice plays offensively and didn't change his game too much," Quenneville said. "It's not easy playing with guys at that next level. It's certainly a great challenge and a great opportunity, so I thought he did a great job, took advantage of it. We'll see how he does going forward but we'll keep him in there for [Wednesday's] game and that gives us some more options."

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Learning on the fly can be part of a rookie season, especially when injuries arise. Jonathan Toews said Kero's handled everything well this season.

"Come to think of it, it's one of those little things that maybe goes over my head but he's definitely one of those versatile players who's as consistent as ever," Toews said. "He has, for his age, an incredible level of maturity and he carries that with him wherever he goes. You're seeing offensive improvement, too. He was making some good plays with Bread Man and Kaner. He's showing he can do it all and I think his work ethic and attitude's a source of that success."

Earlier this season Kero was with guys like Ryan Hartman and Vinnie Hinostroza. They were all familiar with each other from their Rockford days, and that showed. Playing with two guys you don't know so well? It's a bit of a challenge, and one the three talk out. But ultimately, Kero said you have to rely on your instincts. 

"You go over things before the game and on the bench, get a feel for what you might want to do. But then you just have to play hockey," Kero said. "You have to trust your game, make plays. You know they're going to make plays with the puck so you try to use your speed and get open and try to go to the net, create space for them and a little traffic in front and try to capitalize on opportunities."

Anisimov will be out another 1-2 weeks. Asked if Anisimov has started skating back in Chicago yet, Quenneville said, "I don't think so but I'm not positive. But he's progressing." Filling Anisimov's skates isn't easy, as evidenced by the Blackhawks' search for his temporary replacement. Kero is the third guy to get that shot, and he took advantage of his first showing.

"Obviously it's a great opportunity to play with two great players," Kero said. "You just try to do everything you can and do the little things right."

Briefly

- Marian Hossa and Duncan Keith didn't practice on Tuesday but both are expected to play against the Penguins.

- Corey Crawford gets the start against Pittsburgh.

- Hartman, scratched after a rough game against the Florida Panthers, is probably back in against the Penguins.

Blackhawks sign prospect Matheson Iacopelli to entry-level contract

Blackhawks sign prospect Matheson Iacopelli to entry-level contract

The Blackhawks officially agreed to terms with prospect Matheson Iacopelli on a two-year entry-level contract that begins next season and runs through the 2018-19 campaign.

He will report to the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League.

The 22-year-old forward recently completed his sophomore season at Western Michigan, where he scored a team-high 20 goals and added 16 assists in 40 games. It was a huge bounce-back year after recording only one goal and six assists in 27 games during his freshman season.

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A third-round pick (No. 83 overall) by the Blackhawks in 2014, Iacopelli possesses a dangerous shot and is a big-bodied winger at 6-foot-3, 206 pounds. His two-way game still needs fine-tuning, something he will certainly work on in Rockford, but he gives the IceHogs another much-needed scorer.

Iacopelli is the fourth Blackhawks prospect to sign this season out of college, joining John Hayden, Anthony Louis and Luc Snuggerud.