There has been one striking difference between last postseason and this postseason for the Blackhawks. Unlike last year, the Blackhawks have still not gotten the scoring from their depth players that they had in their run to the Stanley Cup last year.
Last year, it was the fourth line that was the difference plenty of times with key goals by Michael Frolik, Dave Bolland and Marcus Kruger. Andrew Shaw was deflecting pucks in front of the net.
Against the Los Angeles Kings, it has been decidedly one sided for the Blackhawks. Of their eight goals in three games, Jonathan Toews has scored three of them. Two goals have been scored by defenseman and that leaves three goals scored by other forwards. It’s a huge reason the Blackhawks are down 2-1 in the series and facing a must win game on Monday.
The only line that has shown up for the Blackhawks has been the first line. Toews with his three goals has been the best player for the Blackhawks. Marian Hossa has played well also registering three assists. However, the rest of the team has left plenty to be desired.
Patrick Kane, Bryan Bickell and Patrick Sharp have combined for one point in the Western Conference Finals against the Kings which was a meaningless garbage time goal at the end of Game 3.
Michal Handzus has been the second line center for the Blackhawks for a majority of the time during the playoffs. While Handzus is steady he has not been able to get Kane and Sharp going. If the Blackhawks are going to get back into the series they will need to get balance across four lines. Some of the best play that the Blackhawks have had in the playoffs is when Peter Regin was the second line center. Kane doesn’t score the series clincher against the Minnesota Wild if Regin doesn’t force Ryan Suter to tie him up allowing the puck onto the stick of Kane.
Especially against the Kings, the faster the Blackhawks can play the better. With Shaw healthy, him or Regin need to be the second line center. Shaw played well in Game 3 and his physical presence and speed could create space for Kane and Sharp. If the second line gets going, it will negate the advantage the Kings have with the Jeff Carter line playing phenomenally so far. The Blackhawks need Sharp and Kane, look for Shaw to provide a spark if put on their line as his agitating presence can annoy and distract the opposition.
But it isn’t just the second line that needs to get going. If the Blackhawks can get more consistency out of their bottom six it will help out greatly. The fourth line of Kruger, Ben Smith and Brandon Bollig has eight points in the playoffs. The third line has been better with Brandon Saad who has been good in the playoffs with three goals and six assists.
In addition, some changes could be in store for the bottom six. Maybe Saad is on a line with Shaw/Regin and Smith. That could leave Kruger, Handzus and Versteeg on the fourth line. The lines are interchangeable but the status quo will not work for the Blackhawks.
There are plenty of ways for the Blackhawks to switch up the lines. What they need is that balance to help out Toews and Hossa. If Kane and Sharp play like they are capable of doing, the lines instantly become more balanced. Even though the Kings are deep, they will have trouble matching four lines that are going for the Blackhawks. But with their backs against the wall, it’s time to make changes and find the balance that has been sorely missing for the Blackhawks.