Analysis

Chicago Blackhawks’ Toews, Darling Red-Hot in Record Road Streak

By George Clifford
Feb 21, 2017; Saint Paul, MN, USA; Chicago Blackhawks forward Jonathan Toews (19) celebrates forward Richard Panik (14) goal in the second period against the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 21, 2017; Saint Paul, MN, USA; Chicago Blackhawks forward Jonathan Toews (19) celebrates forward Richard Panik (14) goal in the second period against the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports /
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Jonathan Toews and Scott Darling on fire as the Chicago Blackhawks stretch road win streak to seven games

With Wednesday’s thrilling 5-3 victory over Minnesota, the Chicago Blackhawks extended their current win streak on the road to a franchise record-tying seven straight games. During the streak, the ‘Hawks have outscored their opponents by an impressive 33-16 margin, posting five goals each in five of those games.

It’s no coincidence that Chicago’s top line of Jonathan Toews, Nick Schmaltz and Richard Panik has been a prime mover in the streak – since its launch at February 2nd’s win in Arizona, the Toews line has forged breathtaking chemistry and produced 13 goals over the past eight games, including eight goals in two recent wins at Minnesota.

The Blackhawks survived the mandatory bye week and now hit the stretch run with plentiful, balanced scoring and consistently superb goaltending to keep them in the race for the Central Division crown. Here’s a look at some ‘Hawks who are feeling it and one who’s not.

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Who’s Hot: Jonathan Toews

Chicago fans have been patiently waiting all season for the captain to find his groove. Since mid-January Toews has been on a tear, exploding for eight goals and 13 assists in his last 12 games, including his fourth career hat-trick Wednesday night at Minnesota. Toews notched the game-winning goal in both wins over the Wild.

He’s been dominant in all parts of the game at both ends of the ice – bullying the puck, jamming the crease, and sparking the fat production of his linemates Panik and Schmaltz. After a slight downturn in the faceoff circle, Toews is back to form at the dot, winning well over 50 percent of his draws in the last four games, and he and currently ranks sixth overall in the league in faceoff wins.

As the captain goes, so go the Blackhawks. Let’s hope Tazer can ride this hot streak right through the playoffs.

Who’s Hot: Scott Darling

It’s easy to forget about the backup netminder until he’s called to action, but Scott Darling has caught everyone’s attention this year with his steady lights-out performance in goal. In Chicago’s recent wins in Buffalo and Edmonton, Darling stopped 55 of 57 shots, yielding only one goal in each of the victories to keep the current road win streak alive.

Among goalies with at least 20 appearances, Darling ranks second in the NHL with a save percentage of 92.8 and fourth in the league with a goals-against average of 2.19. Impressive stuff for part-time work. The big goaltender will play a huge role down the stretch as the ‘Hawks play a compressed schedule for their 22 remaining games.

Who’s Hot: Richard Panik

Since being paired with Toews and Schmaltz, Richard Panik has been a consistent points producer with five goals and four assists over the last eight games. He’s currently riding a four-game point streak, posting four goals and three assists on 16 shots, including the lone goal in Chicago’s 3-1 loss to Edmonton at home.

The talented power forward leads the ‘Hawks with 118 hits this season.

Who’s Hot: Patrick Kane

Although he was kept off the scoresheet against Minnesota Wednesday night, Patrick Kane has continued to produce huge points in spectacular fashion. He’s tallied three goals and five assists over the last five games, and his dazzling highlight-reel goal against Buffalo Sunday night makes him the first American-born player to post 20 goals in each of his first ten seasons in the NHL.

Kaner’s 40 assists and 60 points rank fourth and sixth, respectively, in the league this season.

Who’s Hot: Nick Schmaltz

Rookie Nick Schmaltz is starting to deliver in a big way – he’s got two goals and five assists since being promoted to the top line, including a three-point breakout performance on national TV Wednesday night against the Wild, where his eye-popping backhand pass from behind the net set-up Toews for the eventual game-winning goal.

Schmaltz has displayed the skill and talent to be a top-six forward in the NHL. Now he seems to have the confidence to make it happen.

Who’s Not: Jordin Tootoo

Tootoo has been a healthy scratch since February 4th and has zero points in 36 games so far this season. To be fair, the lumbering winger hasn’t really been a liability on the ice, but with rookies Ryan Hartman, Tanner Kero, and Vinnie Hinostroza producing points and shutdown defense on the fourth line, there is little room for Toots right now.

With his playing time reduced to Dad’s Trip appearances and enforcer duties, Tootoo could just as well have his name engraved on the bench at season’s end.

Next: Chicago Blackhawks Firing on All Cylinders in Minnesota

The Blackhawks have fared well on the road this season, but with a four-game homestand starting Thursday against Arizona, the ‘Hawks need to conjure some UC magic to gain ground on the idle Wild.

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