The Chicago Blackhawks have kept four lines rolling successfully as they’ve piled up four straight victories
Sparked again by their explosive checking line, the Chicago Blackhawks beat the Detroit Red Wings 4-3 in overtime Tuesday night to extend their win streak to four games. Posting five points across the last two games, the line of Ryan Hartman, Tanner Kero and Richard Panik has played a major role in the streak, and the ‘Hawks have found more balanced production throughout the lineup.
In a break from his constant tinkering, coach Joel Quenneville has played the same line combinations throughout the streak, consistently rolling four lines to great effect. After the Detroit victory in which he scored the icebreaker, defenseman Brian Campbell declared, “We’re starting to roll our lines a lot better,” an enticing indication the team may be finding its game as it rounds into the heart of the schedule.
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Here’s a closer look at what the current lineup has produced over these last four victories (all stats are as of Thursday morning):
Stars are the stars. While producing a modest five points last week, the so-called top line anchored by Jonathan Toews generated two critical goals — a nifty tic-tac-toe play that Toews converted for the first goal in the ‘Hawks’ 2-1 win over Carolina, and the powerplay goal scored by Campbell to take an early 1-0 lead against Detroit.
After an admittedly slow start this season, Toews is starting to feel it, posting two goals and four assists in his last seven games, while linemates Vinnie Hinostroza and Marian Hossa seem to have found some real on-ice chemistry. This line is tantalizingly close to gelling into a major threat.
Anisimov’s two scores against Buffalo kept the ‘Hawks in the game until Kane could win it in overtime, and Panarin potted the game-winner against Carolina.
Panarin is riding a three-game point streak, and his 42 points rank seventh in the NHL, while Kaner is on his own four-game point streak and quietly moving to the top of the leaderboard in both assists and points. His 33 helpers and 45 points both rank second in the league right now.
Getting offensive. All the attention this week has been on Chicago’s revamped checking line of Hartman, Kero and Panik. Launched just a week ago when Kero moved up from the fourth line, the trio combined for an eye-catching six goals and five assists in the last four games.
Hartman’s hat trick against Nashville garnered all the buzz, but it was his highlight-reel goal against Buffalo and sensational play along the boards to get a shot on net that Kero banged home against Detroit that really showcase what this group can do.
Their dazzling mix of speed, skill, power and grit along with a willingness to get to the crease for the greasy goals just might be the ‘Hawks’ not-so-secret weapon down the stretch. Sound familiar, all you Shawzie fans?
The ‘Hawks’ fourth line has not been a liability. It’s fashionable to scapegoat Andrew Desjardins and Jordin Tootoo for their lack of production, but anchored by centerman Dennis Rasmussen, this group played substantial quality minutes in all four games last week, posting 15 shots and 14 hits.
They were especially effective in the wins over Nashville and Detroit, generating several grade-A chances while keeping their opponents bottled up in their own zone.
Red-hot blue line. Chicago’s defense got its game on with three goals and eight assists. With two points against Detroit, including the powerplay game-winner in OT, Duncan Keith stretched his point streak to five games. His 29 helpers ranks second among all NHL blueliners.
Niklas Hjalmarsson scored his career-best fifth goal of the season against Nashville, and Campbell put the ‘Hawks up 1-0 against Detroit with his fourth of the year.
The Blackhawks will need balanced scoring from a stable lineup to make any sort of run in the playoffs. Right now, it appears they might just have the right combinations to do that.