Stanley Cup

Blackhawks offense sputtering? Break out the line blender

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AP

Blackhawks offense sputtering? Break out the line blender

When the Blackhawks pummeled the Pittsburgh Penguins 10-1 on Oct. 5 a very optimistic, albeit misguided, phrase was bandied about in certain circles.

“This was a statement game!”

Sure, if you’re super positive that’s one way to go but it was presumptuous. That one game was an anomaly. It was one big, beautiful anomaly for the Blackhawks, who were facing a team that was not only likely tired from two consecutive Stanley Cup runs but also tired from a game the previous night. But it was an anomaly nonetheless.

Fast forward to Tuesday night, when the Blackhawks were the latest to fall to the upstart expansion Vegas Golden Knights. It was the latest in a series of games in which the Blackhawks’ offense has sputtered; asked by The Athletic’s Scott Powers if it’s time to consider different lines, coach Joel Quenneville said, “it’s definitely something we can look at.”

If the line blender is utilized at Thursday’s practice it won’t be a surprise. In their first two games the Blackhawks scored 15 goals (7.5 per game); again, that wonky first game skews everything. The Blackhawks’ offense has since come back to earth, recording 19 goals in their last eight games (2.375 per game). The Blackhawks’ best line over the last two games has been the fourth line. Lance Bouma, Tommy Wingels and John Hayden have each scored in those contests. That’s great for the fourth line but not positive for the other three lines.

The top line has probably been the most consistent but has had its off nights. Many figured (myself included) that once Nick Schmaltz got healthy/back in the lineup that he, Patrick Kane and Ryan Hartman would snap right back into Game 1 form. That really hasn’t happened yet. The third line of Patrick Sharp, Artem Anisimov and Alex DeBrincat hasn’t produced much, either. Anisimov, especially, has been struggling.

Regardless of the line the issues have been the same: too many one-and-done opportunities, not enough zone time and not enough puck possession. The last two used to be such consistent parts of the Blackhawks’ game and they had a lot of success because of them. Getting back to dominating zone time and puck possession can be done, but the Blackhawks need to find the right combinations to do so.

There was nothing wrong with celebrating the Blackhawks’ eye-popping, opening-night victory against the Penguins. Calling it a “statement game” was getting a little ahead of things. There has been more of a statement made in the Blackhawks’ recent trend of games, and it’s a reminder that this season is going to be a work in progress.

Break out the blender.

Blackhawks still searching for second-line answers

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USA TODAY

Blackhawks still searching for second-line answers

Breaking news: when the Blackhawks face the Nashville Predators Saturday night it will be… Game 6 of 82 on the regular-season schedule.

No this is not an exact-some-measure-of-revenge game. That’s a silly notion that makes it sound like an early regular-season game will actually constitute some payback for the sweep the Blackhawks suffered in April. That was then. Right now, the Blackhawks are still trying to figure out the right second-line combination in the wake of Nick Schmaltz’s upper-body injury.

Schmaltz is close but he’ll be out again against the Predators. Tanner Kero, who finished Thursday’s game centering Ryan Hartman and Patrick Kane, will be there to start against Nashville. The three had a decent spark in their few minutes’ together on Thursday and look to have it right away again vs. the Predators.

“Yeah, obviously they’re both playing well, they’re off to great starts,” Kero said. “You just want to help support them, you want to be moving the puck and making sure you’re getting to those areas in front of the net and supporting them all over the ice, try to get them the puck and make plays.”

Nashville certainly was bolstered by its Stanley Cup run last season but that didn’t change the Blackhawks’ perspective of the Predators.

“We’ve always had a ton of respect for Nashville and we’ve always had hard games against them," Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville said. "Tight games, close games, fun games to be involved with — obviously our playoff series wasn’t fun at all — but we feel that we know how good they are. But league-wide it was good for our game, the enthusiasm that Nashville had for its Cup run was good for their market. I think everybody thought pretty good things about Nashville to begin with but certainly that validated it.”

Emotional Bryan Bickell retires with Blackhawks: 'I didn't want it any other way'

Emotional Bryan Bickell retires with Blackhawks: 'I didn't want it any other way'

Bryan Bickell got the call from the Blackhawks not long after he played his final game against the Philadelphia Flyers, a call offering him the opportunity to retire with the team with which he won three Stanley Cups.

“I didn’t want it any other way,” Bickell said.

Bickell’s retirement talk on Wednesday was reminiscent of so many of the media interviews he gave: sometimes funny, sometimes emotional and completely honest. The former Blackhawks forward, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis nearly a year ago, fought back tears as he talked of his time with the team, ending everything here and his health — which is improving.

“Every day, every month is getting better,” Bickell said. “There are good days and bad days but there’s more good than bad. Things are going the right way. The treatments and technology they come out with every month, every year, it’s outstanding. Hopefully one day we find a cure and I hope we find help to do that.”

Bickell will keep being active in the fight against MS — “I want to tell my story, what I went through, just inspire other people to get diagnosed and the experience with their families.” As for hockey, maybe he’ll get involved with that again in the future.

“I want to get back into hockey,” he said. “I have two young girls, 3 and 1, and watching them grow is the first thing I want to do and see where it goes from there. Work with kids and things like that would be a goal for me and I’m looking forward to it.”

Bickell’s playing career ended way too prematurely. It ended as well as it could have, with Bickell fighting back to play in the Carolina Hurricanes’ final few regular-season games last spring and him scoring a shootout goal — “my shooting percentage is 50 percent, which is nice,” he said to laughs. When the news came down that he would retire with the Blackhawks he was inundated with messages. Bickell gave the Blackhawks his best; his retiring with them was a fitting, “thank you.”

“It was nice to see the respect,” Bickell said. “I know the news came out last night [on my retiring here] and seeing all the texts, the media and just all the respect for me and the team has built in the city, it’s an honor to be part of it. To finish here, it’s awesome.”