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Blackhawks seek line chemistry against Philadelphia

by Emerald Gao /

The Blackhawks kick off a three-game stretch against Eastern Conference competition on Tuesday, when the Philadelphia Flyers arrive in Chicago. Philly is finishing up a three-game road trip to begin their season; they won 4-2 in Los Angeles last Friday and dropped a 4-3 overtime decision in Arizona on Saturday. The Blackhawks logged their first win of the season with a 5-3 decision against Nashville.

Philadelphia swept the two-game series against Chicago in 2015-16, blanking the Blackhawks 3-0 at home before winning 3-2 at the United Center. The Flyers were somewhat of a surprise playoff team, finishing as the second wild-card team in the East before losing in a six-game first-round series to Washington. While they're still known to play a certain Philly brand of rough-and-tumble hockey, the amount of skill on the team certainly won't catch any opponents off-guard. Tuesday's tilt is their only action in a span of five days, so their focus will be solely on building off their first win of the season and gaining two more points.

Chicago's win on Saturday came courtesy of Richard Panik's first career NHL hat trick. The winger, playing alongside Jonathan Toews and Tyler Motte, scored his first of the night at 10:19 of the first period with a power move around defenseman Matt Carle, finishing on the backhand from the side of the net; his second and third goals were scored from just a few feet out, capitalizing on loose pucks around the net.

Video: Lear's Look: Panik nets first career hat trick

Panik's goals were scored in a variety of situations, his second coming on the power play and his third late in regulation during a partial line change. He said after Monday's practice that the top line is still in the process of coming together: "We can still be better, and hopefully we will get to the point where we will be comfortable with each other."

While the Blackhawks are experiencing a sudden surge in rookie presence, the Flyers have gradually added more youth to their roster, resulting in an intriguing mix of vets and new faces who have invigorated the team. Last year it was defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere who made a splash, tallying 46 points (17G, 29A) in 64 regular-season games, finishing second to Artemi Panarin in Calder Trophy voting as the league's most impressive rookie.

Philly has benefited from two more new faces so far this season. Travis Konecny, a 2015 first-round pick, shares the team lead with three assists through two games; he's averaged 14:21 of ice time, which includes 1:33 per game on the power play. While undersized, Konecny plays a hard-nosed game and can be a menace on the forecheck. On the blue line, Ivan Provorov has logged big minutes, ranking third on the team with 19:54 of ice time per game. The 19-year-old, also a 2015 first-rounder, has one assist in his first two games and plays a complete two-way game, making himself useful in all situations.

The Flyers have plenty of firepower up front in captain Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek and Wayne Simmonds, as well as Brayden Schenn once he returns from his suspension (he'll miss Tuesday's game). One forward looking to add another dimension to his game by improving his point totals is center Sean Couturier, who has already earned a reputation around the league as a strong shutdown forward who excels against opponents' top talent.

The 23-year-old has started well, contributing two goals in Philadelphia's win over Los Angeles last Friday. While Couturier's 159 points in 352 career games aren't anything to scoff at, he hasn't cracked 40 points in a season yet since entering the league in 2011-12. Some of that is a natural consequence of playing a defensive role, as he's played the toughest deployment among Philly forwards since making his debut (59.2 percent defensive zone start ratio at even strength, per If Couturier can make the jump on the offensive side of the puck this season, he would be a smart bet for future Selke Trophy nominations.

In their first two games, the Blackhawks allowed 11 power-play opportunities, to great detriment. All six goals allowed by Corey Crawford came while one man short, which is not how Chicago wanted to start the season. The team found themselves shorthanded just twice in the return match against Nashville, but did allow one power-play goal, dropping their penalty-kill percentage to 46.1 percent. While that number is certainly expected to improve as the season progresses, and avoiding taking penalties is always the coaching staff's first choice, the Blackhawks acknowledge that certain areas of their PK need work.

"We definitely need to block shots on the penalty kill," Marcus Kruger said after Monday's practice. "Usually if you're in the right area, you maybe don't have to block too many, but you're one man down, so you're going to have to block shots. That's a big part of it."

CHI: LW Andrew Desjardins (lower body), RW Ryan Hartman (lower body)
PHI: C Brayden Schenn (suspension), C Scott Laughton (lower body), D Radko Gudas (suspension), D Michael del Zotto (lower body)


Motte -- Toews -- Panik
Panarin -- Anisimov -- Kane
Hinostroza -- Schmaltz -- Hossa
Rasmussen -- Kruger -- Tootoo

Keith -- Hjalmarsson
Kempny -- Seabrook
Forsling -- Campbell


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