Blackhawks get significant offense from checking line
BY MARK LAZERUS firstname.lastname@example.org March 7, 2013 10:14PM
Chicago Blackhawks v Phoenix Coyotes
BLACKHAWKS AT AVALANCHE
The facts: 8, CSN+, 720-AM.
Updated: April 9, 2013 11:54AM
Go back and re-watch Wednesday’s dramatic Blackhawks victory over the Colorado Avalanche. Watch how Dave Bolland sneakily (illegally?) knocks the stick out of Avalanche forward Jamie McGinn’s hands to free Jonathan Toews for his game-tying short-handed goal. Look how Marcus Kruger fights for the puck behind the opposing net to set up Daniel Carcillo’s game-winning goal. See how Carcillo is in the right spot at the right time to muscle in the winning backhander.
These are the subtle ways — the craftiness, the hustle, the savvy — in which the Hawks are winning games on this team-record 11-game winning streak, and this NHL-record season-opening 24-game points streak.
Then there’s the not-so-subtle contribution of Bryan Bickell, Andrew Shaw and Viktor Stalberg — a checking line in name only. When Shaw scored the first goal of the game (before leaving in the second period after taking an elbow to the head by Paul Stastny), it marked the seventh time in the last eight games that one of those three players has scored a goal. Granted, this particular one was on the power play, but the point remains — on a team loaded with elite talent, difference-making goals keep coming from unlikely sources.
Through 24 games, Stalberg has six goals and seven assists. Bickell has five goals and seven assists. Shaw has six goals and four assists.
“That’s been a big key to our success, is having different guys step up and score that goal,” defenseman Duncan Keith said. “It’s never about one guy.’’
And as with so many other guys on the Hawks — think Kruger, think Michael Frolik, think Bolland — the third line’s success has come from their individual willingness to reinvent themselves to fill a team need.
It starts with Shaw in the middle. After playing center for most of his junior career, Shaw spent the last two seasons on the wing. Moving back to center — in Bolland’s old spot — was a tough transition, and it showed as the line struggled offensively, scoring three goals in the first nine games.
But since Shaw found his groove again, the line has taken off.
“The main thing is [Shaw is] getting better at center,” Stalberg said. “His first five or 10 games, he struggled at times playing that position — it’s something he hasn’t done for a while in the pro ranks. He’s just more poised with the puck, and we’re having the puck more because of it.”
Then there’s Bickell, a guy known for his physical presence who’s turning himself into an all-around player. Known for having a heavy, nasty wrist shot — “When I was a kid, I didn’t play video games or anything like that, I just worked on my shot,” he said — Bickell has been making a conscious effort to shoot more, and it paid off with two goals against the Wild. He also has made two brilliant centering feeds from behind the net that created goals against Columbus and St. Louis.
“I’ll help the team in any way,” Bickell said. “I know they’ve been above-average passes for me; I’m usually a shooter. But different years, and playing with different players, you have to adjust. I’ll do whatever to make this team win.”
Finally, there’s Stalberg, a gifted offensive player asked to play on a checking line. Of course, even though defense is the priority, on this particular checking line — much as the memorable trio of Andrew Ladd, Kris Versteeg and Bolland did during the 2010 Stanley Cup run — offensive chances are everywhere.
“They’ve had some real long offensive zone shifts the last couple, three games, and they’ve been productive, as well,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “When you don’t have to check in your own end, it’s a bonus.”
Added Shaw: “Everyone’s buying into the system, everyone’s playing defense first. And when you do that, good things come offensively. We just hope to keep it going.”
NOTES: There were no official updates on the statuses of Patrick Sharp, Andrew Shaw, Marian Hossa or Michael Frolik. But TSN in Canada reported on Thursday night that Sharp has a “fairly severe AC-joint shoulder separation.” He is likely to be out for a minimum of three weeks, possibly for a month.
◆ Ray Emery is the first goalie in NHL history to win his first 10 decisions in a season. He already held the record for the most wins to start a career, with nine.