Showtime, baby: Blackhawks’ second line was off-the-charts good in season-opening blowout

Showtime, baby: Blackhawks’ second line was off-the-charts good in season-opening blowout

Nick Schmaltz and Patrick Kane were a sizzling combination through most of Thursday night’s game. From their reads off each other to the passes to the points, the duo, which had built up great chemistry through training camp, put it to full use through two-plus periods. Throw in Ryan Hartman for more of a net-front presence and there was the potential for some points.

Make that a lot of points.

Schmaltz had two goals and an assist, Kane had a goal and three assists and Hartman had a career-high five points (goal, four assists) in the Blackhawks’ lopsided 10-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday night. Playing against the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions, who played Wednesday night against St. Louis, the Blackhawks started strong, didn’t let up and got a little something from everyone. But the newest version of the second line stole the show.

There was a late-regulation scare when Schmaltz left the game favoring his left knee. But Quenneville said Schmaltz was fine and is expected to play on Saturday when the Blackhawks face the Columbus Blue Jackets. That concern gone, Quenneville could appreciate what that line did.

“That was amazing watching the speed, whether it’s Schmaltzy going through the middle of the ice, playmaking, patience in the offensive zone be it off the rush and in zone or cross-ice passes. They were doing it all tonight,” Quenneville said. “It was one of those nights where they were outstanding. They all complimented one another, all hit open spaces and they all hit those little holes and were extremely dangerous. It was a great start for them.”

Schmaltz and Kane worked together a lot this summer, trying to build on the chemistry they had in some games last season. While they’ve been together just about all of training camp Hartman was added to the line a few days ago – “Hartzy is one guy who gets to the net most, better than a lot of guys do,” Quenneville said. The trio didn’t get a preseason game together but that didn’t seem to matter.

“Felt great. You could probably tell we were having a good time, having fun with it,” Hartman said. “Kane made some great plays and Schmaltzy as well. Things were clicking. The whole team came out hot and ready to play. It was a good win for us.”

The night-and-day difference between Schmaltz last season to this one was evident on Thursday. The speed has increased. So has his confidence. Kane’s precision was stellar, from his spin-o-rama pass to set up Schmaltz’s first goal to his driving backhand goal early in the second period. Hartman had a steady drive to the net, his goal starting the Blackhawks’ five-goal barrage in the first period.

As first runs go, it was an impressive one for the Blackhawks. They’re feeling pretty good about their lines right now. The Hartman-Schmaltz-Kane trio didn’t have a lot of time together prior to the season opener but their timing was pinpoint on Thursday.

“It was almost like it wasn’t a real game. It was just amazing, a fun start to be a part of and I think we were just playing hockey,” Kane said. “It’s not like we were trying to run up the score. We were just playing hockey. It was fun to have that. Good start, don’t be satisfied, but you gotta be happy with the way we came out.”

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Are Blackhawks doomed to miss playoffs without Crawford?


SportsTalk Live Podcast: Are Blackhawks doomed to miss playoffs without Crawford?

Jesse Rogers (ESPN Chicago), Patrick Finley (Chicago Sun-Times) and Dan McNeil join Chuck Garfien on the panel.

Corey Crawford is reportedly suffering vertigo-like symptoms and there’s a chance he might not return this season. Are the Blackhawks playoff chances gone if he doesn’t come back?

Plus, the guys talk Bears coaches, preview Conference Championship weekend and Jesse discusses if the Cubs are saving their money for next winter’s big free agent class.

Listen to the latest SportsTalk Live Podcast right here:

Why Corey Crawford situation is tricky for Blackhawks


Why Corey Crawford situation is tricky for Blackhawks

The Blackhawks have been tight-lipped about Corey Crawford's status ever since he was placed on injured reserve on Dec. 27 with an upper-body injury, and it's fueled rampant speculation on social media about what's really going on. That came to an end on Tuesday when Mark Lazerus of the Chicago Sun-Times reported that there's growing concern within the organization that its star goaltender could miss the remainder of the season with vertigo-like symptoms. (Blackhawks senior adviser Scotty Bowman went on Sportsnet 590 The Fan on Wednesday to clarify it's post-concussion syndrome).

And while there's at least some clarity surrounding Crawford's condition, it's opened up more questions about what the Blackhawks may do going forward.

On Monday we broke down the unfavorable playoff picture for the Blackhawks going into the bye week, which was a glaring concern in and of itself. Add in the possibility that Crawford could be sidelined for the rest of the campaign and those chances absolutely diminish.

So what course of action should the Blackhawks take ahead of the Feb. 26 trade deadline? That's where the tricky part comes in.

Because of the nature of Crawford's injury, the Blackhawks aren't at a point right now where they want to put him on long-term injured reserve because that would require him to miss a minimum of 10 games or 24 days, and they're still holding out hope that he could come back within that timeframe. The problem with it is that nobody really knows. It could be days, weeks or months, and putting a restriction on that doesn't make much sense in the middle of a playoff run even though it would open up significant cap space.

Which brings us to our next point. There are certainly some decent rental goaltenders (Robin Lehner, Petr Mrazek or Antti Raanta, to name a few) on the market if the Blackhawks choose to go that route, but that might not be the wisest thing to do.

Given their spot in the standings and the chances Crawford could return, why risk giving up future assets for a playoff run that may not happen? It would be different if the Blackhawks wanted to add some insurance for the stretch run and postseason, but there's no guarantee it'll happen.

If the Blackhawks did, however, want to go that route, they would need to act quickly because there's no point in waiting closer to the deadline. Every point is crucial from here on out.

Perhaps the best and most logical idea is to stand pat.

Let it ride with Anton Forsberg and Jeff Glass and hope they can hold the fort down until a potential Crawford return. Let the young guys continue to grow. Maybe add a defenseman to patch up the back end, but don't empty the tank. There's no reason to. The Blackhawks are hoping to sign highly-touted prospect Dylan Sikura after his college season ends, which would serve as a deadline acquisition by itself.

It will be tempting for the Blackhawks to be aggressive at the trade deadline in the wake of Crawford's injury, and they're surely already having these discussions as they continue to explore the different avenues. But this might be a rare case where doing nothing is the right way to go.