In Focus: Blackhawks Forward Depth Making An Impact

The Chicago Blackhawks stayed on top of the NHL with a strong victory on Friday night. Chicago showed San Jose and the rest of the league why they have yet to lose a game in regulation through 14 games once again, as the team’s depth was on display.

Antti Niemi has allowed more than three goals only twice in 11 starts this season, and both occasions have come against his former teammates.

But on Friday night, it wasn’t the Hawks’ superstars leading the way.

Marcus Kruger earned the game’s number one star with his third goal of the season – the game-winner – and an assist on Niklas Hjalmarsson’s fourth period tally; for Hjalmarsson, it was his first goal of the season. Andrew Shaw added his third goal of the season on a second period power play.

In fact, the only top-six forward to score against Niemi on Friday night was… Dave Bolland. It was Bolland’s fifth goal in 13 games.

Throughout the early going this season, the Hawks have received key performances from role players.

Seven Blackhawks have already scored at least three goals this year, and Patrick Sharp isn’t one of them. Indeed, the Blackhawks’ bottom-six forwards have scored 12 goals through 14 games this year; the Nashville Predators have scored only 26 as a team.

Chicago’s roster has seen many players step into different roles this year as well, which has made immediate impacts in more areas than scoring.

This is the first season since 2007-08 that Bolland, when healthy, hasn’t been among the Hawks’ short-handed ice time leaders. In each of the last four regular seasons, Bolland has been one of the top-three Blackhawks in average short-handed ice time per game. So far, Bolland ranks fifth among Hawks’ forwards in that category this year at only 1:18 per game; his lowest average over the last four years was 1:46 per night.

Entering Saturday, Kruger is tied for 21st in the NHL averaging 2:50 per game in short-handed ice time, while Michael Frolik is averaging 2:35 on PK duty. And their work on that special teams unit has been exceptional; Kruger and Frolik have each been on the ice for only two opponent powerplay goals this year in over 76 combined short-handed minutes.

After two years of fans (and probably his bosses) begging for Bryan Bickell to be more physical, he has finally shown a consistent willingness to use his 245-pound body this year. Through Friday night, Bickell is tied for 35th among NHL forwards with 31 hits.

Three of the Hawks’ top four hitters this season have been from their bottom-six forwards. Bickell leads the team, followed by Brent Seabrook (22). But Shaw (21) and Viktor Stalberg (17) fill out the team’s top four in the category, the only four on the team averaging more than one hit per game.

Surprisingly, Bickell has also been a good thief this year as well. With 10 takeaways already this year, Bickell is tied for 22nd among all forwards with some impressive names including Jeff Skinner, Kyle Turris, Jordan Eberle and former Blackhawk Troy Brouwer.

In fact, Brouwer and Bickell have been fair comparisons early this season.

Through 14 games each, consider these numbers for Bickell and Brouwer:

Points Hits Takeaways Blocks TOI
Brouwer 9 34 10 4 18:53
Bickell 7 31 10 5 11:59

Interesting.

Coach Joel Quenneville has shown confidence in all four lines, and his faith has been rewarded early this season. We’ve already looked at how the ice time per game for Seabrook and Duncan Keith has come down from recent seasons, and the same is true this year for the Hawks’ top forwards.

The average ice time per game for Jonathan Toews (19:12), Patrick Kane (19:47), Sharp (19:27) and Marian Hossa (18:25) are all down significantly this year; Toews’ average ice time has been at least 20 minutes per game for three straight years, peaking at 20:50 per night last year. Hossa’s average ice time is down 92 seconds per game from last year (19:57) as well.

Chicago’s depth has been critical in their early season success, and continued contributions should keep the Hawks in contention.

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9 Responses to In Focus: Blackhawks Forward Depth Making An Impact

  1. smitty says:

    Great insights, thanks Tab. It is precisely that much more balanced scoring that should give fans every reason to believe this team can go much further than has been the case for the past couple of years. The names have changed but the concept is very similar to what we saw in 2010 when several players stepped up and played big roles during the season and throughoput the playoffs.

    It is also very encouraging to see the success so far this season and know that history shows some players are virtually certain to pick up their performance and contribution.

    Many fans worry about what could go wrong. I say let’s enjoy the run and hope this team turns out to be as great as its start.

  2. Brad Stevenson says:

    Another great analysis Tab…thanks so much!

    Last night’s game was definitely won due to the “bottom” 2 lines, Ray Emery and STs…since that first game versus PHO, Emery has been lights out…in fact, even better than Crawford…Emery told all of us flat out and he thought he would be better this year than last as it takes time to fully “awaken” the muscles, tendons and ligaments associated with his bone transference surgery. Clearly he is now in game shape, and thus his confidence has rebounded…when you watch Emery he absolutely expects to stop everything he sees…he has outstanding position, and is controlling his rebounds masterfully. Having CC out for a little while right now, may be a boon for the Hawks who look like they have 3 good NHL goalies available.

    I just can’t say enough about Kruger…he is just so smart and so tenacious out there…and you can see his confidence rising every game…Frolik was really lights out again, creating a few good scoring chances for himself as well as doing yeoman work in the D zone. We are a noticeably better hockey team when Jamal Mayers in the lineup…sorry to the Bollig crew, but Mayers allows that 4th line to get 8-10 minutes of “regular” ice minutes, he wins face-offs, he takes the man, and is strong in the D zone…Bollig is limiting our 4th line to 4-5 minutes of “regular” minutes per game, and Kruger has to be on the ice at least 12 minutes a night…he’s too good to be sitting on the bench.

    I really love the 3rd line as well…they also dominated while out there…yes Stahlberg made that horrible turnover, but he will learn from it…Shaw and Bickell are both playing very, very good hockey…and that’s why you have Shaw on the PP…he is a scrapper, you will get his uni dirty by hanging around the crease…NONE of the Hawks core seem to be willing to do this, and its the principal reason why our PP has struggled…way too much cutesy perimeter stuff and not enough scrums in the crease.

    Bolly had a goal last night, and it was a great effort, but if you really watch Hawk’s games you can see you Bolland hurts us…that 2nd line (like most of last night) becomes spectators when they lose the draw (which happens a ton with Bolland)…none of them are great at getting the puck back, so they skate around loosely in our own zone and give up scoring chances. Either Bolland has to get better at the dot, or someone else needs to centre that line…that is a TON of offence that is being lost because we can’t gain possession when they are on the ice…and its killing Sharp’s game…he was a GHOST last night, and at $6 mil per season, he simply can’t be.

    It was great to see Tazer stick up for himself last night, but Thornton really threw him off his game all night…from the opening whistle till the end, Toews was not himself…for the first time that I can ever remember his mind was fixed on something other than winning…I am certain it will be a one game anomaly, but it was really noticeable. Brandon Saad was on fire again last night, and in fact he was the best player on that line last night…both Toews and Hossa should of had goals off of Saad’s hard work…the kid is a big time keeper.

    Bottom line, we are so fast, we are so deep, and our goaltending is so good that we may not lose for a while. I still think though that we should move to make a deal for Colorado’s O’Reilly, as Bolly’s are really hurting that 2nd line…and that’s not to say Bolly’s a bad player!

  3. William says:

    Bolland –> O’reilly. I love davey; nonetheless, do eat nau!

  4. McKay says:

    I think this was the Hawks’ best game of the season against a rested contender. It’s one of those “please can the playoffs start tomorrow” type games. All phases of the game were great and the power play was on and it was great to see a gritty goal to show for it.

    The O’Reilly trade is a really interesting question (and thank you for bringing it up, Tab). This team has amazing chemistry right now. Every player is playing to the best of his ability. Do we have any individual player under achieving on the Hawks right now? I don’t think so. It’s a really tough call and I trust Bowman to make the right decision.

    Are we seriously upset with Sharp for 12 points in 14 games? A ghost in last nights game? Really? He drew the penalty that led to the third goal.

    The other thing—Toews—that was shocking. He’s earned his right and I’m glad he stood up for himself. What goes on the Hawks’ locker room is their business and I’m sure it fired up the team. But as a fan, I wasn’t exactly inspired by that and I’d rather see Bicks or Seabs or Mayers crush Thorton’s skull and do the dirty work for Toews.

  5. jeff says:

    No, that one Johnny had to do. No one else. It was personal.

  6. Brad Stevenson says:

    Here is a very interesting stat…

    “The Hawks are closing in on the record for consecutive games to start a season with at least one point, just two away after rolling through their first 14 without a regulation loss. The Ducks in 2006 went 16 games while the Oilers lasted 15 in 1984 and the Canadiens in ’43 made it to 14. When it was all said and done, here’s what those teams had in common: They won the Stanley Cup. Throw in the Canadiens team that reached 13 games in ’72 without a defeat in regulation and finished the season hoisting the Cup and the evidence is strong that blistering beginnings can mean historic finishes.”

  7. Tre says:

    No write up on Friday night’s game? It was a great performance, but I would have liked to hear your thoughts on how BigJoe got under Toews’ skin sufficiently for Toews to basically assault the big man and then drop the gloves for the first time in 2 years. I usually think of Capt Serious a contender for Lady Bing, but these guys obviously haven’t had any fondness for either.

    Great article, regardless. I like the statistical comparisons.

  8. Dave says:

    Brad Stevenson—the 1995 Pittsburgh Penguins also were in that group, having gone 13 straight with at least a point. They are the only ones of that group to NOT have won the Cup.

  9. Brad Stevenson says:

    Dave, I guess the trick is to not have an unlucky streak end at 13…

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