Question 1: My pick here is Jonathan Toews. According to WGN Radio’s Judd Sirott, Toews leads the league with 16 points in the month of February. Oh, but wait, that was before Sunday night! Toews earned another goal and an assist against the Blues, to give him seven goals and 11 assists for 18 points in the month of February.
Recently, Toews spoke out and indicated he wished he had more consistent linemates to work with on the ice. Who knows if this contributed to Coach Q keeping them together, but Toews has played alongside Nick Schmaltz and Richard Panik for the last 10 games.
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Toews and his linemates have lived up to their end of the bargain with their production. In February, Panik has five goals and six assists, and Schmaltz has contributed three goals and seven assists. Two “misfits,” in the form a kid in his rookie year and a player who spent most of last season in the AHL, have paired with one of the best two-way players in the NHL, and they are making some noise.
There’s no doubt in my mind that Toews is leading the charge here. He’s working hard with Panik and Schmaltz to get things right. He’s communicating, getting in their ear, and leading by example to build everyone’s confidence. Keep up the good work, captain!
Question 2: Highly, highly, highly concerned! I’m not sure people realize how important Hjammer is to this team. He’s by far the best defensive defenseman on the team. He’s currently second in the league with 156 blocked shots.
And he’s stepped up his offensive game as well. Hjalmarsson ranks fourth for defenseman in points for the Chicago Blackhawks, only missing that third spot by one point to Brian Campbell. Yes, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook by far surpass him when it comes to assists, but Hjalmarsson’s currently tied with Keith for goals, with five.
But most importantly is the ice time he eats up, and the heavy assignments he is tasked with. Hjammer averages 21:41 minutes of ice per game, trailing only Keith and Seabrook. He and Keith make up a formidable first pairing, being asked to go up against the opponent’s top lines night in and night out. Asking Trevor van Riemsdyk to fill these shoes is like asking Patrick Kane to step in for Corey Crawford. OK, well maybe not that extreme, but you get the point.
Da Windy City
Here’s to a speedy recovery for the warrior Hjalmarsson!
Question 1: I’m going with Nick Schmaltz. He doesn’t have the most points on the team during the month of February, but he is fifth with 10. Considering the struggles we saw from him earlier in the season, however, that’s an excellent total.
Schmaltz’s first run with the Blackhawks this season saw him struggle with confidence and knowing when to shoot the puck. He was jumbled around lines, occasionally benched and finally shipped off to the Rockford IceHogs.
Shift to Jan. 15 — the day Schmaltz was recalled from Rockford — and beyond, and Schmaltz has seen a complete 180 in his game. He seems entirely confidence playing alongside Jonathan Toews on the top line, taking on tougher assignments.
His passes are confident and focused. He seems to feel comfortable putting the puck on net himself. His decision-making has noticeably improved. It’s hard not to be excited about a rookie player seeing this much success after a short stint in the AHL.
Question 2: Losing Niklas Hjalmarsson to injury long-term would be one of the worst things that could happen to the Blackhawks this season.
Hjammer has essentially been Chicago’s top defenseman throughout the season. Duncan Keith hasn’t been as good as Hjalmarsson on a nightly basis in 2016-17. And the other defensemen have seen their struggles as well.
We all saw last season how important it was for the Blackhawks to have a solid defense. Missing Hjalmarsson puts a huge hole in that idea this season. Thankfully, it sounds like his injury is a short-term one, although it leads one to wonder why he was on the ice at all against the Arizona Coyotes last week.