The Blackhawks will play their first game since March 11 on Wednesday when they face the Blues in an exhibition game at Rogers Place in Edmonton.
While the game might seem meaningless — it is, after all, a second preseason — there are reasons to watch.
Here are five things to look for to see how the Blackhawks are preparing for Game 1 of their best-of-five qualifier series against the Oilers on Saturday, Aug. 1.
Corey Crawford missed much of training camp with COVID-19, which he disclosed Saturday. While it doesn’t seem he’s suffering from any long-term consequences, seeing how Crawford bounces back ahead of the postseason and against a team like the Blues, the top seed in the Western Conference.
It also remains to be seen whether Crawford will play, and if so how long he will. There’s a the possibility the Blackhawks play him for only the first period or so and then bring in Malcolm Subban to see what he can do in a somewhat playoff-like environment.
Crawford is not the only Chicago player to watch return from missing time during training camp. Defensemen Connor Murphy (groin) and Calvin de Haan (family emergency) missed about a week. Murphy practiced Tuesday after being held out Monday in Edmonton. De Haan skated separately from the main group once when he returned to training camp and has been a full-participant in practice ever since. The defensemen will likely be paired together.
But watching Crawford and Murphy will be especially important as both attempt to return from physical ailments. They’re both incredibly important to the Blackhawks’ defense with Murphy being a capable defender and Crawford as the best and most experienced goalie on the roster.
How they play against the Blues could be a glimpse of how they’ll do at the beginning of the series against Edmonton.
For the exhibition game, teams are permitted two extra skaters (presumingly one forward and one defenseman). The 13th Blackhawks forward is up in the air — likely to be one of Brandon Hagel, Dylan Sikura or perhaps even Philipp Kurashev — and so is the seventh defenseman. Lucas Carlsson seems like the natural choice, although the Blackhawks may want to see what Nicolas Beaudin can do.
Watching how the extra skaters perform is important as injuries during the tournament could lead to them drawing into games. Two or more good extra players could be necessary.
Aside from the prospects up for the extra positions, the young players getting their first tastes of the postseason — Adam Boqvist, Kirby Dach, Alex DeBrincat, Alex Nylander and Dylan Strome — will be factors to watch in the exhibition game.
Nylander, Dach and Boqvist each had impressive training camps and looked to have improved during the pause. Can they build off that into an impressive game against the Blues, likely continuing to build momentum going into the qualifier round?
After his roughest season in a three-year career, haunted by a low shooting percentage but now playing with Toews and Brandon Saad, can DeBrincat bounce back?
Both questions could be answered more concretely after this game.
What combinations of players will we see throughout this game? How will the seventh defenseman and 13th forward be used, and playing on what lines, if used at all?
We know defensemen Slater Koekkoek and Olli Maatta are likely paired up, as are Duncan Keith and Boqvist. But are de Haan and Murphy firmly set together, or could Murphy play with the seventh defenseman and de Haan be used with Keith at times? Could Murphy get more time in with Boqvist, and could Koekkoek be with a different partner?
DeBrincat — Toews — Saad
Nylander — Strome — Kane
Kubalik — Dach — Caggiula
Carpenter — Kampf — Highmore
Will they stay that way, or could we see returns to lines that had more time together, like Kubalik-Kampf-Saad or DeBrincat-Strome-Kane? The lines currently haven’t had a ton of time together in the regular season, with the most time among linemates being the second lines’ 111 minutes. The first line played just 25 minutes together across 70 games and the third had only six minutes.
The second line had good stats (52.82 percent shot share, 53.85 percent high-danger share) and the fourth line (who played 53 minutes together) had great stats, especially in relation to their 35.71 percent offensive zone faceoff percentage.
How to watch
When: 5:30 p.m.
Where: Rogers Place; Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
TV: NBC Sports Chicago Plus, NBC Sports Network, NHL Network
Live stream: NBC Sports app, NHL.TV