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Chicago Blackhawks: Third Line Needs Consistency

By Skylar Peters
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Over the past several years of their dominance, the Chicago Blackhawks have been a team that kills their opponents with depth, featuring a relentless attack through all four forward lines.

The Blackhawks are off to a 2-1 start this season, much to the credit of the top two lines. Artemi Panarin, Patrick Kane, and Artem Anisimov have lit up the New York Islanders and New York Rangers through their first three games, and certainly have stole the spotlight. Meanwhile, the Blackhawks’ top line of Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, and Teuvo Teravainen have been steadily producing, on both sides of the puck.

Despite the success of the top-six, the Blackhawks’ third line still has struggled to find it’s groove through the first five days of the regular season. The Blackhawks’ fourth line has been quietly consistent, and their role has been played to near-perfection thus far.

The lone bad-spot is the third line. With Bryan Bickell, Andrew Shaw, and Viktor Tikhonov manning the teams’ third unit for this weekend’s double-header against the Islanders, the line has combined for only one point (a Shaw assist in Saturday’s game), and have a cumulative -1 rating.

It can be said that the loss of Brandon Saad has been felt more on the ‘Hawks third line, more than the first line he occupied, with the loss of Teravainen to the Toews-led group. With Tikhonov, who played his first NHL game since 2009 on Friday, and Bickell, who was nearly riding the bus with the Blackhawks’ farm team just weeks ago, there seems to be no sure fix for this group.

The Blackhawks are nearly at the end of the rope with Bickell, especially with hungry prospects like Phillip Danault and Mark McNeill in the minors. However, a switch for Bickell to a prospect means Shaw is the only hand on the third line with a solid amount of NHL experience, with two Cups at only 24 years old.

Shaw’s experience and youth offers upside to this line, however he may not be in the right spot at the moment. The Blackhawks have had success with Shaw at center in the past, so it was a no-brainer for head coach Joel Quenneville to give #65 a shot in the pivot role once again. However, Shaw has really shone on the wing in a more supportive role, complimenting a skilled player like Teravainen, as opposed to carrying the load himself.

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Tikhonov’s signing was an interesting one for the Blackhawks in the off-season, and many wondered just where he would fit in on their roster. While the third-line role seems suitable for the 27-year old, he has looked slightly out-of-step in the two games since making his debut on Friday.

When searching for a fix for this line, it seems like time may be the only option. Coming off of two straight wins, Quenneville is not likely to re-adjust the lineup, potentially breaking up any chemistry between the fourth-liners.

Quenneville and Stan Bowman do have the option of dropping a hungry rookie into the lineup, but at this stage of the game, it is something they will likely keep in their back pocket.

The Blackhawks would be wise to ride this situation out, and let Bickell respond to the pressure, Tikhonov find his stride, and Shaw fit in the familiar role of pivot once again. With 79 regular-season games to go for the ‘Hawks, this is definitely in the ‘marathon’ stage of the regular season as opposed to the ‘sprint’ portion. Though it is a small sample size, it seems that the other 9 forwards on the Blackhawks will be able to carry the load, while the third group finds their consistency.

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