Blackhawks’ top lines looking familiar again

Blackhawks’ top lines looking familiar again

Coach Joel Quenneville said late last week that it wasn’t wise to read too much into the Blackhawks’ lines at the time.

On Monday you could read more into those lines, and the top two looked pretty familiar.

Marian Hossa was back with Jonathan Toews, with Richard Panik on the left wing, and the second line of Artemi Panarin, Artem Anisimov and Patrick Kane was together again as the Blackhawks prepped for Wednesday’s regular-season opener against the St. Louis Blues.

With Andrew Desjardins out 4-6 weeks with a lower-body injury, their bottom two lines are youth heavy. Tyler Motte, who wowed in training camp, is on the third line with Marcus Kruger and Ryan Hartman. Vinnie Hinostroza, Nick Schmaltz and Jordin Tootoo comprise the fourth line.

  Left wing Center Right wing
First line Richard Panik Jonathan Toews Marian Hossa
Second line Artemi Panarin Artem Anisimov Patrick Kane
Third line Tyler Motte Marcus Kruger Ryan Hartman
Fourth line Vincent Hinostroza Nick Schmaltz Jordin Tootoo

So the Blackhawks will start with top-six players who know each other very well.

“Right now we talk about balance, and we feel that balance and predictability is having four lines where we have familiarity,” Quenneville said. “That’s probably the most important reason why we’re looking to start with a couple of established lines up front and work our way.”

Quenneville had talked of making changes to get more balance in the Blackhawks’ lineup. When Hossa returned to practice last Friday he was part of a third line with Marcus Kruger, Panarin was on the top line with Jonathan Toews and Motte was with Anisimov and Kane. Hossa and Kane both said they would do whatever was in the team’s best interest but in terms of Panarin and Kane, specifically, there’s no doubt the two had tremendous chemistry that was tough to beat and even tougher to split up. When the two were together following a penalty kill in last week’s victory against Detroit, Kane had the primary assist on a Panarin goal.

[MORE BLACKHAWKS: Five questions facing the Blackhawks as regular season begins]

Talking after that game, Kane commented on the possibility of he and Panarin being split.

"Yeah, I mean, you know, last year I think is probably the one year that I really only played with a couple players, so I'm used to playing all over the place, playing with different guys,” he said. “We'll see what happens. I know they wanted to try something different for the game tonight and maybe throughout preseason, so I'll just play where they tell me to play, I guess."

As of now, Kane and Panarin are together again. Same with Toews and Hossa. How long things last remains to be seen but a few players who have had great success together will see if they can build on that on opening night.

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: