John Hayden

Fourth line adding a little of everything, including goals, for Blackhawks

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USA TODAY

Fourth line adding a little of everything, including goals, for Blackhawks

They know their role, what they have to do every time they’re on the ice. Fourth liners are out there to bring energy, to bring a physical presence, the sandpaper, the grit, all those familiar terms.

As for what fourth liners want to do? Well with that, they’re like every other hockey player.

“You know, we all play this game for one reason and that’s to score goals,” Tommy Wingels said recently. “Whether you’re a five-goal scorer or a 50-goal scorer, you go out there wanting to score a goal every shift. that being said, are we going to do that? No. But we’re certainly going to try every shift.”

For Wingels, Lance Bouma and John Hayden, who have comprised the Blackhawks’ fourth line for most of this season, the trying has yielded some good results lately. All three have scored in recent games; Wingels and Bouma provided the goals in the Blackhawks’ 3-2 loss to Nashville on Tuesday night, with Wingels nearly tying the game late.

When the Blackhawks were experimenting with different line combinations during their scoring drought, the fourth line remained intact. That’s mainly because those three serve a certain purpose but it’s also because it’s been consistent. Bouma, in and out of the Calgary Flames’ lineup the last two seasons due to injury or lack of production, has found a steady role here. Wingels was expected to play mainly wing but has found his niche at center. Hayden brings skill and the physical element, mixing it up a few times this season.

It didn’t take long for the three to mesh and get familiar with each other’s tendencies.

“We played with each other for most of the year so we know where everyone’s going to be on the ice. And it’s a good combination,” Bouma said. “We have a good mixture on the line. We’re all gritty guys, we all want the puck and are hungry on it. If we continue to play like that we’ll have some success.”

The fourth liners know their role: bring the energy, the grit, the physical presence, all of that. But goal scoring is never frowned upon, and those three have brought that, too.

“It’s a lot of different things we try to do. We try to be physical, we try to draw penalties, we try to bring momentum in our favor, we try to play well defensively,” Wingels said. “It’s just doing anything we can to help this team win.”

Five takeaways from Blackhawks 4-1 win over Panthers: Much-needed offensive breakout for Jonathan Toews

Five takeaways from Blackhawks 4-1 win over Panthers: Much-needed offensive breakout for Jonathan Toews

Here are five takeaways from the Blackhawks’ 4-1 win over the Florida Panthers on Saturday night:
 
1. Another strong start.

The Blackhawks had arguably their best first period since Opening Night on Wednesday in Tampa Bay when they scored a pair of goals and killed off three penalties, but they topped that against the Panthers.

The Blackhawks registered 30 shot attempts (21 on goal), allowed only nine attempts (seven on goal) and led in the even-strength scoring chances department 13-4. White jerseys were flying everywhere.

John Hayden and Brandon Saad both buried their scoring chances at the doorstep, and helped the Blackhawks take a 2-0 lead into the second period.

Chicago now has 24 first-period goals this season, which ranks fourth in the league.

2. Saad-Toews-Panik line dominates.

Of the 30 shot attempts the Blackhawks compiled in the first period, the top line of Saad, Jonathan Toews and Richard Panik combined for more than half of them. In fact, the trio was on the ice for 19 shot attempts for and zero against in their first six shifts, all of which were at even strength.

Saad had seven of the team's 21 shots on goal in the period, which alone matched his season-high going into the matchup. The last Blackhawks player to record seven shots on goal in a period was Dustin Byfuglien on Feb. 6, 2008 against Edmonton.

Saad was rewarded with a goal, just his second in his last 16 games, when he slammed home a Toews pass. Saad also had an assist and finished with eight shots on goal.

3. Kaner's feeling it.

Look out, folks. Here comes the 2016 Hart Trophy winner.

Patrick Kane has four goals in his last five games, including three in his last two, after going seven straight games without one. With seemingly no room, Kane found a hole top shelf snapped a shot past Roberto Luongo's left shoulder to put the Blackhawks in front 3-1 less than six minutes after the Panthers had cut their lead in half 1:06 into the second period.

It really helped squash any type of momentum for the Panthers, who outshot the Blackhawks 19-10 in the middle frame.

Kane also extended his point streak to six games, where he has four assists to go along with his four goals over that span.

4. So is The Captain?

Both of the Blackhawks' top weapons are starting to heat up. One of them already has.

Toews got off to a hot start when he had six points (three goals, three assists) in his first six games, but slowed down after he accumulated only seven points (two goals, five assists) in his next 16.

Well, that changed Saturday when he tallied a goal and two assists for his first three-point outing of the season. His goal was fluky, but one that certainly took terrific hand-eye coordination.

Hey, you take them any way you can get them, especially during a drought. The Blackhawks improved to 4-1-1 when their captain scores a goal this season.

If he gets going offensively on a consistent basis, the rest of the lineup will too because it simply takes pressure off the other three lines. Toews sets the tone.

5. Fourth line stays reliable.

If there's one line that's been consistent throughout the majority of the season, it's the Blackhawks' fourth consisting of Lance Bouma, Tommy Wingels and Hayden. 

The trio turned in another solid effort, combining for eight shot attempts (seven on goal), three hits and also teamed up to score the game's first goal (Hayden, assisted by Bouma and Wingels), as mentioned above.

Bouma had another point, and increased in his point total to eight (one goal, seven assists) in seven career games against the Panthers.

It's got to be encouraging for Joel Quenneville that he can rely on his fourth line to play third-line minutes, and in any role, while he continues to tinker and figure out his top nine in an effort to get more consistency across the board. Although he hasn't gone to the blender much lately, which is a great sign because it means the Blackhawks are piling up wins.

Joel Quenneville's latest line changes: Will they jump-start low-scoring Blackhawks?

Joel Quenneville's latest line changes: Will they jump-start low-scoring Blackhawks?

The Blackhawks’ unveiled their latest forward lines on Thursday, the response to the team struggling to find the same offense they had in their first two games of the season.

“I think we can be better with the puck, more comfortable with it,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “That way you can have the puck in the offensive zone instead of defending it on more shifts than we’d like. But we’ll see.”

And that’s really the point here. Whether the Blackhawks move players up and down the lines, keep lines the same for a while or switch them constantly, the way they play is ultimately what has to improve.

For grins, let’s look at a few of the notable changes:

— Alex DeBrincat gets a chance with the top line, joining Brandon Saad and Jonathan Toews. He’ll still be on the right side — keep in mind DeBrincat played on the left side during most of his time in the Ontario Hockey League.

“On the left I can open up for a one-timer right away. On the right I just gotta find space in the middle and try to have a quick release. That’s the biggest difference,” DeBrincat said.

— Richard Panik moves to the second line with Nick Schmaltz and Patrick Kane, so the line keeps a heavy hitter/net-driving player presence.

— John Hayden moves up to the third line, while Ryan Hartman goes to the fourth line. Breaking up the fourth line, arguably the Blackhawks’ best the last two games, is interesting. But Hayden has been strong from the start of the season and deserves a bump up. Is Hartman getting demoted for recent penalties? Hartman has five minors through the first 10 games this season; last season he had five minors in his first 33 games.

“With him, that’s an ongoing challenge, knowing the balance, the attention with the referees and the way the game’s being called,” Quenneville said. “You gotta be aware, and I think he knows the limitations and boundaries and scrutiny.”

But back to the Blackhawks’ overall game. From puck possession to zone time to shot opportunities, the Blackhawks aren’t getting enough. So no matter how things stack up among the lines, their usual strong suits have to return.

“We definitely need to switch up. Fresh ideas can be good. But to me, playing in the offensive zone, being relentless on the puck, bringing the puck to the net, (we have to) do all the little things better and score ugly goals,” Artem Anisimov said. “If you can make a play, make the play. If you have a lane to the net, bring the puck to the net.”

The Blackhawks gave these lines a solid chance. The changes could help stoke the offense, but no matter how you arrange the personnel, the Blackhawks have to get back to the game that’s always worked for them.

“We haven’t generated much 5-on-5,” Quenneville said. “We’d like to have some predictability for longer stretches but on a need basis, sometimes change can be good.”