Blackhawks' top line starting to connect


Blackhawks' top line starting to connect

Andrew Shaw, Marian Hossa and Jonathan Toews gathered to celebrate the first of Shaw’s two goals on Tuesday night.

Celebrations have replaced the frustrations that dominated the first line’s first half of the season: great, sometimes glorious, scoring chances just wouldn’t go past goaltenders. But in recent games the Blackhawks’ top line has been just that.

Shaw scored twice, Hossa had two assists and Toews added another helper in the Blackhawks’ 3-2 victory over the Nashville Predators on Tuesday night. It was the second consecutive game in which the top line came through with big points — Hossa had two goals, breaking his 14-game goal-less streak, in the Blackhawks’ victory over Colorado on Sunday.

Finally, that line is clicking.

[MORE HAWKS: Andrew Shaw scores two as Blackhawks win eighth straight]

“Yeah it seems like the chemistry started to show a little bit,” Hossa said. “We definitely had some good looks before but we couldn’t put the puck in the net. Now we’re finding the net. That helps the confidence, the smoothness and everything else.”

Shaw said he and his linemates are communicating better, too.

“I think we’re talking about where we’re cycling, when we need to be and playing tight defensively,” he said.”

It’s also been a consistent line, personnel-wise, lately. The Blackhawks spent a good deal of the first half trying to find the right left wing for Hossa and Toews. Pretty much every forward on the team – Shaw, Teuvo Teravainen, Ryan Garbutt, Bryan Bickell, Artemi Panarin, and former Blackhawks forward Viktor Tikhonov among them – got an opportunity. Most including Shaw got two or three auditions there. Richard Panik was set to get a chance there, and he still could at some point; but Panik’s visa issues and a delayed arrival, coupled with the line starting to work with Shaw, put that option on hold.

Right now, Shaw is the guy up there.

“He’s been good,” coach Joel Quenneville said of Shaw. “That line is coming off two good games on the production side of things. They’ve been playing well, they got a big assignment and winning that game, it really enhances our team game. Shawzy’s been around the puck and gets two goals basically because he’s around the net.”

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As much as the left-wing carousel was a problem, that wasn’t the top line’s only issue. Hossa went through the longest goal-less streak of his career before he snapped it on Sunday. Toews has been more consistent with goals (16), but four were overtime winners and several others came on special-teams situations.

All the while the Blackhawks leaned heavily on their ultra-productive second line of Panarin, Artem Anisimov and Patrick Kane. Eventually that top line had to help in the heavy lifting.

“They’ve been the motor of the team, scoring 90 percent of the goals,” Hossa said. “It’s nice to get help from different lines so they can take a break.”

It took a while, longer than anyone on the Blackhawks would’ve liked, but the top line has found its rhythm again. More important, it’s finding the back of the net again.

“There have been [slow] stretches but this year it was a long stretch. We’re glad, so far, it’s been working out the last few games for us,” Hossa said. “We just need to keep doing what we’re doing now.”

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should Blackhawks' One Goal be to tank?


SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should Blackhawks' One Goal be to tank?

On the latest SportsTalk Live Podcast, Danny Parkins (670 The Score), Seth Gruen (Big Ten Unfiltered) and Jason Goch (SB Nation Radio) join Kap on the panel. 

The Blackhawks drop their 8th straight. So should their “One Goal” be to tank?

Plus, Jon Lester isn’t a fan of the new pace of play proposals. Is he right?

Listen to the full SportsTalk Live Podcast right here:

With playoff chances all but over, what can Blackhawks do at trade deadline?


With playoff chances all but over, what can Blackhawks do at trade deadline?

After losing their eighth straight game and falling 12 points out of a wild-card spot in the Western Conference, the Blackhawks' playoff chances have dipped to a season-low 0.2 percent. It would take a miracle for them to extend their postseason streak to 10 at this point, where getting just one win seems like a monumental task.

The Blackhawks were probably never really going to be buyers before the Feb. 26 trade deadline even if they were still in the hunt, but it's hard to imagine they had plans to be sellers. Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman has reiterated over and over again that he's confident in this group, one that's getting younger and faster.

But now they've reached a territory where they have to consider selling off spare parts simply to coup some draft picks or prospects that they could perhaps retain or use as sweeteners in the offseason.

So which players could the Blackhawks realistically sell?

Let's start with the two players getting rewarded with top-six ice time as of late: Lance Bouma and Tommy Wingels.

These are two players that play with high energy and go to the greasy areas, something that's important in the playoffs when scoring goals becomes more difficult. They can clean up rebounds. Wingels, particularly, likely has more value and it's showing given his recent success on the power play as a net-front presence guy. He also isn't a stranger to the playoffs with 54 games under his belt compared to Bouma's five.

Both of them are pending unrestricted free agents and are making $1 million or fewer, which certainly works in the Blackhawks' favor considering they won't cost much and their cap hits are easy to fit in on any interested team.

Maybe a team would like to take a flyer on Tomas Jurco, who's a restricted free agent at the end of the season, but that would be a move somebody makes as more of a longer term project than strengthening your depth for a playoff run this spring.

On the back end, Michal Kempny and Jan Rutta could be in play for a contender looking to ensure some depth as a sixth or seventh defenseman. Again, each of them are making less than $1 million so it's a low-risk situation for clubs whose Plan A or B fall through and may be interested in at least getting something.

While they don't have much NHL experience, they're both 27 years old and have played the sport long enough to know what they can bring to the table.

Once Feb. 26 passes and potential roster spots open up, expect the Blackhawks to start calling up the kids. 

Matthew Highmore deserves a look after leading the Rockford IceHogs with 20 goals and 32 points. John Hayden has 11 points (four goals, seven assists) in 15 games since joining Rockford, and belongs in the NHL. Even Anthony Louis, who's taken a step forward, should get a taste of the action as he continues his development.

Carl Dahlstrom is getting his shot now. Erik Gustafsson is in that process as well. Gustav Forsling had another extended look during the first half of the season before the team decided it would be wise to continue his development in Rockford, where he can play top-pairing minutes.

All of this would give the Blackhawks a better indicator of how they can approach the upcoming offseason, and which young guys they can possibly add into the mix for 2018-19. But first, we have to see how the end of February plays out before making those calls.