The Chicago Blackhawks need to stop skating 10 forwards as they did against Vancouver Saturday night. Bringing veteran forward Michal Handzus back to the active roster is a step in the right direction.
The Blackhawks reactivated Handzus Saturday. Now all they have to do is find a place for him in the lineup.
I know that coach Joel Quenneville had 12 skaters filling his forward lines in Chicago's 2-1 win over the Canucks. However, on a night that Vancouver coach John Tortorella shortened his bench in the second game of a back-to-back, Quenneville did the following:
- Once again, he used Sheldon Brookbank up front until an injury to Michal Rozsival forced him to pair Brookbank on the blue line with Nick Leddy. His time on ice as a forward was 3:57.
- Jeremy Morin dressed in the wake of Marian Hossa having to return to Chicago for a family matter and skated all of 4:58.
This isn't going to cut it with four road games left for the Blackhawks in the next seven days. Handzus should be in the lineup somewhere on Monday, when the circus trip continues in Edmonton. He may not be fully recovered from whatever drove him to injured reserve, but he must feel ready to get back to work.
Where Quenneville slots Handzus is another matter. I am going to assume he trusts his veteran center enough to give him more than the thimble-full of minutes Morin and Brookbank were allotted. Chicago could sure use a full supply of forwards against the Oilers.
Let's assume that Hossa is able to return and Quenneville is sitting Rozsival in favor of Brookbank on the blue line. Here's how the lines could look Monday night:
- Patrick Sharp-Jonathan Toews-Hossa
- Brandon Saad-Brandon Pirri-Patrick Kane
- Andrew Shaw-Marcus Kruger-Kris Versteeg
- Brandon Bollig-Handzus-Ben Smith
Now, let's discuss.
First off, there is no way Handzus should sniff the top six the way Pirri's played in his absence. If Hossa is unavailable Monday, Saad moves to the top line and Versteeg to the second.
Morin gets his five minutes in some sort of rotation on the third line. I don't agree with the way Morin is being used, but Quenneville obviously doesn't trust a guy who is lighting up AHL nets whenever he's down there.
You could certainly make a case for Kruger to stay with Bollig and Smith in what is essentially Quenneville's checking line. If you want to keep that fourth-line chemistry for a while, skate Handzus on the carousel that is the third line.
If Morin winds up in the lineup, someone is probably double-shifting and slumming on that line anyway. Again, I don't agree with it, but that's how Quenneville is using Morin right now.
Smith got some top-six moments Saturday, and his play deserved it. He wasn't credited with an assist on Kruger's game-winner early in the third period, but Kruger doesn't get the puck in open ice without Smith tying up Ryan Stanton along the boards in the neutral zone.
So, maybe Shaw centers Smith and Versteeg for a change of pace, and Handzus and Kruger skate with Bollig. This is Joel Quenneville we're talking about, so shuffling the lines is a given even with a healthy roster.
The bottom line is that Handzus needs to be able to play at least 10-12 minutes when he's in the lineup. That could include some penalty-kill duty, but putting the burden on 10 forwards can easily be avoided if Handzus is ready to skate.