The second line of the Chicago Blackhawks has played two games with Nick Schmaltz, and two games without. To quote Charles Dickens, “It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.” Yeah, hyperbolic and dramatic, but apropos for Schmaltz’s second line mates Ryan Hartman and Patrick Kane. In the first two games of the season, Schmaltz was fast. He was active on the ice and created opportunities for his line-mates. Since he was injured in game two versus the Columbus Blue Jackets, his line has desperately missed him.
In games one and two, the second line scored 15 points. Patrick Kane had six points, eight shots on goal and a plus/minus rating of plus 6. Ryan Hartman had six points, four shots on goal, and a plus/minus rating of plus five. During those games, Schmaltz added three points of his own and anchored the Hawks most productive line.
Since Schmaltz left the second game versus the Blue Jackets, it has been downhill for the second line. Kane has yet to add another point, same with Hartman. Kane has a plus/minus of negative four, while Hartman’s plus/minus is negative two. Even more startling is the team shot differential. In the first two games, the Blackhawks outshot their opponents 73-62. In the two games since the injury, the Blackhawks have been outshot 85-46.
Clearly Schmaltz’s injury isn’t solely responsible for the differential, but his absence has had a profound effect on the second line. Coach Quenneville moved Artem Anisimov up to the second line center position. Anisimov is big and plays physically, but compared to Schmaltz, he has heavy feet and slows the pace of the entire line. With Schmaltz, line two was able to transition from defense to offense quickly and jump into the offensive zone ahead of the opposing defense. With Anisimov, they were unable to get any offensive production going and were unable to set up in the offensive zone.
The Blackhawks host the Minnesota Wild on Thursday and are hopeful for Schmaltz’s return. If he is unable to go, Coach Q needs to look for another answer to center the second line. Perhaps dropping Brandon Saad down to line two and moving John Hayden to line one next to Jonathan Toews would do the trick. The move that can’t be made is moving Patrick Sharp or Alex DeBrincat from the third line. Those two are building chemistry and playing well together. Sharp’s knowledge of the game and years in the league will be beneficial to the development of DeBrincat.
The Hawks have gotten some great play from goalies Corey Crawford and Anton Forsberg, but will need to clean up the goal differential if they want to win consistently. Job one is to get the second line rolling again. Schmaltz is clearly the answer, but in his absence, Coach Q will have to get creative. Find out Thursday night at 8:30 CST when the puck drops versus the Wild.
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