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.”

The pros and cons of reuniting Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews on Blackhawks top line


The pros and cons of reuniting Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews on Blackhawks top line

Jonathan Toews' offense usually comes in spurts. We're seeing it again right now.

But it's no coincidence his numbers have spiked since Patrick Kane joined him on the top line.

After recording another two points in Saturday's 5-3 loss to the Buffalo Sabres, the Blackhawks captain has 11 points (four goals, seven assists) in his past eight games; he had 11 points in his previous 23 games total.

Toews also reached the 20-goal mark for the 11th straight season, joining Kane and Alex Ovechkin as the only three active players to accomplish that feat to open their NHL careers.

Kane has seen his offensive production pick up, too. He has 16 points (four goals, 12 assists) in his past 13 games after going five straight without one, which was his longest point drought of the season.

When the two of them are on the ice together at even strength, they control 57.9 percent of the shot attempts. It hasn't quite translated on the scoresheet (14 goals for and 17 goals against) maybe the way it should, but they are certainly spending far more time in the offensive zone than the defensive end and are generating a high volume of shots.

So yes, reuniting the dynamic duo has worked stats-wise.

But it comes at a cost:

— Vinnie Hinostroza and Nick Schmaltz haven't scored in six straight contests.

— Alex DeBrincat's season-long goal drought is up to 13 games.

— Artem Anisimov's last even-strength goal came nine games ago.

When you put Kane and Toews together, you risk losing some balance across the lineup and that's why Joel Quenneville has always been reluctant to go to that nuclear option. He prefers when opposing teams are forced to play 'Pick Your Poison.'

Ideally, you'd like to spread out the scoring, but one thing is for certain: The Blackhawks are better when Kane and Toews are each producing offensively, whether they're apart or together. 

When the wins start to dry up though — and they have — that's normally when it's time to try something different.

Perhaps more importantly, the last thing you want are those scoring droughts mentioned above to stretch even further and get inside the younger skaters' heads, then carrying it with them into the offseason.

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: Has the championship window closed?


Blackhawks Talk Podcast: Has the championship window closed?

On the latest Hawks Talk Podcast, Jonathan Toews sits down with Pat Boyle for a 1-on-1 interview. Toews weighs in on his season with Brandon Saad, whether he expects major changes this offseason and has the championship window closed?

Also, Adam Burish joins the podcast and plays the game: “Building block, not sure, or no thanks.” Burish runs down the Blackhawks forwards and predicts whether or not they have a future with the team.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below: