The Blackhawks' lines rolled out on Monday morning, with Nick Schmaltz taking his normal spot at second-line center. After missing the last five-plus games this is as positive a sign as the Blackhawks have had that Schmaltz is close to returning.
There will be a few people happy about that, including Patrick Kane.
“With us, we were playing together for about a month there, so you really get used to playing with certain guys and certain line mates,” Kane said. “While he was gone I wasn't very good, so it'll be nice to have him back.”
Let’s just take a quick look at the numbers: In the brief time Kane and Schmaltz played together in the regular season (season opener and the first few minutes vs. Columbus), Kane had two goals and four assists. In the four-plus games since Schmaltz’s injury, Kane has two assists.
Yes, Kane and Schmaltz together worked pretty well. Sure, it’s a small sample size in terms of regular-season games, but they’ve been working together since late summer. Even when they didn’t score they were a threat to do so. The Blackhawks became a one-line team in his absence, so his return should bring balance again.
“One game sampling, and then the whole training camp, obviously he really got us excited with his speed, his presence off the rush, play recognition and his, I guess, synergy with Kaner seemed to be the one thing that was outstanding in the one game. Really noticed [that] right off the bat,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “[Ryan Hartman] did a good job on that line, as well, so you got a little bit of everybody doing a little bit of different things. But his speed is the one thing that you really notice with the last couple of days returning to practice.”
Reuniting with Artem Anisimov didn’t work. Tanner Kero centering that line was fine. Schmaltz and Kane clicked well before the regular season even began and with Schmaltz regaining his health, Kane should regain his production.
“Like I said, you get so used to playing with someone for a month, I don't think that's a knock on anyone else or any of our other center men. Even in those four games I wasn't very good either,” Kane said. “With that being said, he just brings the speed up the middle. And I think the biggest thing with that (is) that a defenseman has to make a decision. If he wants to drop back, he's going to take him away and I get some more time and space. If he wants to come at me, then I can make that play to the middle and maybe have an odd-man rush. That's his biggest asset obviously.”