Chicago Blackhawks: Fourth Line Focus

When the Blackhawks made the summer overhaul of their roster, veterans were expected to pick up the slack. Certainly, coming into the pressure of defending a championship and a new system would lead to a longer learning curve from the younger players the Hawks were hoping would contribute.

Everyone in the free world knows that the top two lines for the Blackhawks are going to create mismatches. Any time you have two lines with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Sharp at center and Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa at a wing, teams are going to struggle to split their top defensemen’s minutes enough to control that talent.

And yet it’s been the fourth line for the Hawks that has been not only been the most consistent migraine for opposing coaches, but has been arguably the most productive.

Viktor Stalberg, Jake Dowell and Jack Skille have provided speed, effort and and size that have been a nightmare for opponents the entire season. And, if they continue to do the little things as well as they have through ten games, they won’t be together on the fourth line for much longer.

Fernando Pisani was brought in to provide a steady veteran presence to roster, and hasn’t made many overwhelming mistakes. He also hasn’t provided a point yet, and is minus-three. He began the year with Patrick Sharp and Patrick Kane on the second line, but has bumped down to the third line despite the injuries the Hawks have dealt with.

In fact, the third line of Bryan Bickell, Dave Bolland and Pisani have combined for only seven points (five of which are from Bickell) and are minus-four through ten games. They have also combined for 37 shots on goal and 33 hits. The fourth line has combined for six points (two each) and is only minus-three, while combining for 44 shots on goal and 38 hits despite averaging roughly three fewer minutes per game per man.

While some of the new veterans like Pisani have struggled early on, some of the young superstars haven’t started the season on fire, either. Consider that Stalberg has as many goals (two) as Kane, Toews, Bickell and Brent Seabrook through ten games. With respect to hits, Skille (16) and Dowell (14) rank fourth and fifth, respectively, on the team behind only Troy Brouwer (25), Seabrook (21) and Bickell (20). Skille also ranks seventh on the team in shots on goal (21), ahead of Brouwer, Bolland and Tomas Kopecky.

Because of their effort, we’ve started to see more of these three on special teams. Dowell has been doing a solid job on the penalty kill unit all year, but now Skille has been seeing ice time in both power play and penalty kill situations, and Stalberg has started to sneak on the ice when the Hawks have a man advantage.

If you watch Blackhawks games on television, you’ll hear the same cliche about 20 times a night: “Good things happen when you get the puck to the net.” Good things also happen when you skate hard, play physical, and attack. The fourth line has been doing that, consistently, every game and has certainly earned more minutes moving forward.

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