After losing four of their previous five games, the Blackhawks have picked up 11 out of a possible 12 points in their past six outings to reinsert themselves into the playoff discussion. A large reason for that is because they're finally getting secondary scoring.
But after going back-to-back games with only two goals — below their season average of 3.35 per game — the Blackhawks are putting the nuclear option of Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews together on the first line. Is it the right move?
The underlying metrics suggest the two superstars are better when they're apart, forcing teams to play pick your poison — although they do have a plus-5 goal differential at 5-on-5 this season when they're on the ice together, according to naturalstattrick.com. But the numbers also show that when Kane and Toews are clicking, so are the Blackhawks.
According to NBC Sports Chicago's stats guru Christopher Kamka, the Blackhawks are 83-7-5 in the regular season and 6-0 in the playoffs when Kane and Toews score in the same game. In the past 52 games, they're 50-1-1. They've done that nine times this season and are 7-1-1.
In addition, the Blackhawks are 31-19-8 this season when Kane registers at least one point. They're 1-10-2 when he doesn't, and 0-1-0 without him in the lineup. Before Monday's game against Vancouver, Kane had gone three straight games with fewer than 20 minutes of ice time. It was the first time he'd logged fewer than 20 minutes since Dec. 23.
The Blackhawks are hoping to recapture some of the Kane-Toews magic from earlier in the season, with Dylan Sikura on the left side instead of Drake Caggiula, who's still in the concussion protocol.
"We had a good stretch, won some games in a row with the balanced lineup and just felt it was time to change again," coach Jeremy Colliton said. "Kind of had that feeling going into the [Vancouver] game, actually, and I think it was at the end of the first period when I flipped it. I just like how it looked. I liked the combo, and Sikura’s playing so well, he could do for them what Caggiula was doing. And that was the bottom line. When we lost Caggiula, I didn’t think we were getting as much out of them. And with the way Sikura is playing he could do that job for them, but we’ll see."
In the long term, it's crucial for the Blackhawks to fill out their top-9 and be able to roll at least three strong lines. It's difficult to ask Kane and Toews play north of 23 minutes on a nightly basis over the course of an 82-game regular season, plus playoffs. But there are 10 games left. Ride them and see where it takes you, and figure out a long-term solution this summer.
No. 88 hits 100
It came in a loss, but with a primary assist during Monday's game, Kane hit the 100-point plateau for the second time in his NHL career. It's a number that most elite offensive players aim for at the beginning of the season because it has so much meaning, and Kane is no different.
"It’s special," Kane said. "It’s always a number that you strive for, so it’s exciting to get it and get it over with, too. I thought it was pretty fitting the way that [Jonathan Toews] scored it. He’s probably been the biggest reason I’ve reached that plateau this year. And I thought it was pretty cool how [Alex DeBrincat] knew to pick the puck up right away. He’s obviously been another guy that’s been a huge part of the reason I’ve gotten there. Pretty fitting all the way around. Nice to get it done and over with. Ten games left, so focus on winning games.”
With 10 games remaining, the Blackhawks could be getting an important piece of their puzzle back down the stretch. Caggiula has been sidelined since Feb. 27 after suffering a concussion in a game against the Anaheim Ducks, and has missed the last eight games. He skated before practice on Wednesday for the first time, then joined the team for morning skate on Thursday.
"Still in the process of getting cleared," Caggiula said. "I've done some tests here and there, but I'm just starting to skate and see how I react to that. I felt pretty good today, but we'll see how I feel later in the day tomorrow and see how I react tomorrow morning. That's kind of been the telltale of how I've been feeling. Just gotta be patient and take it one day at a time."
It's a positive step forward as he inches closer to a return, but he still might be a ways away. There's no timetable on his potential return, and Caggiula himself wants to make sure he's "maybe a little bit overripe" before jumping back into game action.
"You're looking at the calendar, you're counting down how many games are left," he admitted. "We're right there in the playoff push and you want to be able to help out in anyway you can. But at the same time we've got to remember your brain is a very important part of your body. Your health comes first. You've just got to make sure that you take it one day and make sure you are patient cause like I said your brain is a very important piece. A lot of other injuries you can play through, but this is one of those injuries you've got to make sure you're fully healed."
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