When desperate times call for desperate measures, the Blackhawks usually load up their first line by pairing Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews together. Chicago knows it as the “nuclear option.”
But there’s a third piece to the puzzle this season: Dominik Kubalik.
After falling in a 2-0 hole in the first period against the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday, head coach Jeremy Colliton turned to Kubalik-Toews-Kane in the second period for a spark, just like he did on Saturday against the Anaheim Ducks. And it paid off immediately.
For the fifth straight game, Kubalik found the back of the net after Kane’s shot went off Kubalik’s leg and in with 2:40 left in the middle frame. And just 3:41 into the third period, Toews’ stretch pass led to Kubalik’s second goal of the game to even the score at 2-2. It’s the 18th goal of the season for Kubalik, who has back-to-back two-goal games and now sits alone atop the rookie leaderboard in goals.
Toews eventually won it for the Blackhawks by scoring his NHL-leading 12th career 3-on-3 overtime goal to complete the two-goal comeback, but it probably wouldn’t have happened if Kane wasn’t moved to the first line, even though Drake Caggiula complemented Kubalik and Toews very well in the opening frame.
The Kubalik-Toews-Kane line logged 10:01 of ice time together at 5-on-5 and this is what their stat line looked like at the end of the game, according to Natural Stat Trick:
— 11 shot attempts for and 5 against
— 7 scoring chances for and 0 against
— 4 high-danger chances for and 0 against
— 2 goals for and 0 against
Kubalik led all skaters with nine shots on goal, five of which came from the slot, according to Sportlogiq. The trio combined for three goals, four assists and 18 shot attempts (13 on goal), willing the Blackhawks to their fifth road victory in six games.
Colliton has been reluctant to start that line together in the past, though, because it takes away from the balance.
"They're going to continue to play together at times," Colliton said after Saturday's 4-2 win over the Ducks. "I'm not going to commit to playing them together all the time. When we don't spread it out, it's problematic for playing a four-line game, and we can't expect them to out-score the other team by two or three every night. But we can spot them in. They've done a great job for us when we've done that."
That's exactly what happened on Tuesday, but the success of that line this season is making it difficult on the coaching staff not to start them together at this point.
When Kubalik-Toews-Kane are on the ice together at 5-on-5, the Blackhawks are controlling 51.8 percent of the shot attempts, 56.9 percent of the scoring chances and 53.9 percent of the high-danger chances. They’ve also been on the ice for 11 goals for and only 3 against.
How overloading the first line impacts the depth scoring is a valid concern, given all the injuries the Blackhawks are dealing with. But right now, they should ride the momentum of their new nuclear option of Kubalik-Toews-Kane.
"They’re going to play together," Colliton told reporters in Ottawa. "It’s just finding the right combos, the other combos, and do we need them to spread out the depth in the group? At some point we’ll get some players back and we’ll see how that looks but for now, they’re doing a good job.”
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