The Chicago Blackhawks have been able to offset the loss of Patrick Sharp thanks in part to a pair of surprising rookies as well as a surging Viktor Stalberg. Don't look now, but there's another player stepping up his game with Sharp out of the lineup.
Hide the cheese, here comes the Rat.
Dave Bolland's game is coming around at a point where the 'Hawks were in need of the help. A goal and an assist in Wednesday's 6-2 victory over Buffalo has capped off a five-game stretch in which Bolland has racked up eight points.
With Sharp out for at least a few more weeks, Patrick Kane having trouble finding the net and Marcus Kruger only recently back in action, Bolland's surge comes at a terrific point in the season.
Despite a foot injury that sidelined him for three games in November and may have been hampering his game, Bolland has been on the ice with more regularity. Right now, that's beginning to make a big difference to the 'Hawks.
His third-period goal against the Sabres was his 14th of the season through the 43 games in which Bolland had appeared. At this rate, Bolland is very likely to eclipse his career-best 19-goal season, set in the 2008-09 campaign.
Bolland played 81 games that season. If he stays on the ice, his first 20-goal season is within reach.
Bolland's recent placement on the second line may well be the biggest reason for his offensive step up. With Marian Hossa and the opportunistic Andrew Shaw on his wings, Bolland has been able to fill the hole at second-line center for the time being.Will Bolland remain on the second line past the trade deadline? It would seem that the 'Hawks would like to have their stopper on the checking line come playoff time. However, Bolland is making his presence felt on what has been an democratic offensive attack in the wake of Sharp's wrist injury.
Jimmy Hayes, who was Wednesday night's first star, and Shaw, who potted goal No. 5 in his eight games with the club, have been key contributors since coming up. Jonathan Toews has shown typical leadership ability in keeping the train rolling with a key player out of the lineup.
It's easy to get caught up in the praise of the rookies, and that praise is well-deserved. However, don't overlook the job Bolland has been doing these last six games.