The Chicago Blackhawks’ new checking line clicked in wins over the Panthers and Devils earlier this week
With captain Jonathan Toews sidelined the past four games, it’s been all hands on deck as the Chicago Blackhawks still managed to grab seven of eight possible points and stay atop the Western Conference.
In fiercely contested wins over the Florida Panthers and New Jersey Devils, the Blackhawks’ newly constituted checking line of Marcus Kruger, Dennis Rasmussen and Richard Panik sparked the team to victory, scoring the ‘Hawks’ first goal in each game.
A great checking line has played a key role in the Blackhawks’ success over recent years. Here’s a look at the checking line and how the current lineup fits the role model for success.
Turning defense into offense
The third line, often called the checking line in Chicago, has traditionally been stocked with aggressive, defensively-skilled players and then deployed to shut down the opposing teams’ top offensive lines, and hopefully flip the ice, thereby turning defense into offense.
The Pittsburgh Penguins’ celebrated “HBK Line” of Carl Hagelin, Nick Bonino and Phil Kessel used speed, power and skill to take away the home team’s last-change advantage and became the Penguins’ top producing line on the road during the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Blackhawks fans will never forget the third line of Kruger, Dave Bolland and Michael Frolik, which produced the Cup-clinching goal in 2013 against the Boston Bruins. Or the line of Teuvo Teravainen, Antoine Vermette and Kris Versteeg, which scored crucial goals during the 2015 championship run.
The search for options
Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville is notorious for constantly revising his line combinations in an endless search for options and the right balance of chemistry, responsibility and production.
So, how has the line of Kruger, Rasmussen and Panik managed to stay intact over the past two games? Against the Panthers and the Devils, the line combined for 14 shots on goal, 8 hits and 5 blocked shots. In a nice turnaround at the dot, Rasmussen and Kruger won over 50 percent of their faceoffs.
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The trio presents a compelling combination of skill, power and responsible play.
Panik is strong on the boards, has a great power move to the net and against the Panthers flashed the ability to finish. With his long reach, Rasmussen is showing great stick work, especially on the penalty kill, and has a ton of skill — his perfect touch pass to Krugs set up the ‘Hawks’ first goal against the Devils.
On the year, Panik leads the team with 53 hits, while Rasmussen leads the centers with 22.
For his part, Kruger is a smart, skilled centerman and playmaker, much more valuable than his point production might suggest. Hopefully, he’s settled down and gotten past that earlier string of costly penalties.
Two games is much too small a sample size to make any definitive conclusions, but this trio has been the best checking line this season. When Toews returns from injured reserve, everything will probably change. But for now, Coach Q has found a lot of options with the “KRP Line.”