Midseason Grades for Each Line on the Chicago Blackhawks

Steve Silverman@@profootballboyFeatured ColumnistJanuary 14, 2015

Midseason Grades for Each Line on the Chicago Blackhawks

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    Alex Brandon/Associated Press

    The Chicago Blackhawks are not where they want to be as the second half of the season gets underway.

    They are two points behind the Nashville Predators in second place in the NHL's Central Division, and the Preds have two games in hand on Chicago.

    Nevertheless, the Blackhawks proved themselves as legitimate Stanley Cup contenders during the first half of the season.

    They have depth and scoring power up and down the lineup, and there is little doubt that they would be favored in any best-of-seven matchup they are likely to engage in during the postseason, assuming the team can avoid major injuries.

    Head coach Joel Quenneville loves to switch his lines on a regular basis. Not only will he do it from game to game, he will make changes within games.

    However, for the purposes of this feature, we will hand out grades for the four lines based on these combinations.

No. 1 Line: Brandon Saad, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa

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    USA TODAY Sports

    When Quenneville calls on his top line of center Jonathan Toews surrounded by right wing Marian Hossa and left wing Brandon Saad, he knows the house is going to be protected.

    He knows that Toews and Hossa are two of the most responsible and effective three-zone players on the team—if not the league—and Saad has the speed and diligence to stay with opposing forwards or catch up to them when the opponents have possession of the puck and are attacking.

    However, the Blackhawks usually have possession of the frozen disc and are creating scoring opportunities when Toews, Hossa and Saad are on the ice.

    Toews has been consistent since the start of the season, and he is the Blackhawks' second-leading scorer with 13 goals and 25 assists in the team's first 43 games. He has a team-best plus-15 rating, and his on-ice Corsi percentage is plus-18.80, according to BehindTheNet.ca.

    Both Hossa and Saad got off to slow starts in the goal-scoring department, but that appeared to be the result of poor puck luck since both men were skating hard and creating opportunities.

    Hossa and Saad have stepped up the pace in recent weeks, and they are the third- and fourth-leading scorers on the team.

    Hossa has scored nine goals and added 22 assists, and he also has a plus-six rating. Saad has scored 12 goals and 16 assists along with a plus-nine rating.

    Hossa's 15.95 on-ice Corsi percentage indicates that he has been playing at a high level on a consistent basis, while Saad's 9.42 on-ice Corsi figure indicates that he could pick up his game a bit.

    This line has performed quite well, but the potential is there for so much more throughout the rest of the season.

    Grade: A-

No. 2 Line: Bryan Bickell, Brad Richards, Patrick Kane

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Is there a more dangerous player on any No. 2 line in the NHL than Patrick Kane? 

    Very unlikely, because Kane is a legitimate Hart Trophy (MVP) candidate while playing right wing on Chicago's No. 2 line. He is the Blackhawks' leading scorer with 20 goals and 27 assists through the team's first 43 games, and he has a plus-nine rating.

    Kane seems quite likely to blow by his career high of 30 goals by late February or early March. A 35- to 40-goal season seems quite likely for the Blackhawks' quicksilver forward who has scored six power-play goals and an eye-opening five game-winners.

    Brad Richards has been the No. 2 line's center for much of the season. Richards took some time to get used to his new surroundings and linemates, but he has been trending upward since mid-November.

    Richards has scored nine goals and 17 assists, and he has a plus-nine rating. Richards may have lost a step since his prime years, but he does a nice job from the point on the power play, and he is a pinpoint passer.

    Left wing Bryan Bickell is another story. He has been playing his position on the second line since Kris Versteeg injured his left hand in the Winter Classic, and his size and strength should work well with the clever Richards and the explosive Kane.

    However, Bickell is a notoriously underproductive regular-season performer, and he has played to that reputation for much of the season. However, he has been playing much better in recent weeks, and he has nine goals and nine assists for the year after a brutally slow start.

    If Bickell can continue to produce the way he has in recent games—five goals and seven points in his last seven games—the line will be dangerous.

    Grade: B+

No. 3 Line: Patrick Sharp, Andrew Shaw, Teuvo Teravainen

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    USA TODAY Sports

    The Blackhawks' No. 3 line provides an excellent example of why this team is so dangerous and will be such a tough opponent during the postseason.

    Left wing Patrick Sharp was the team's leading scorer a year ago with 34 goals and 44 assists, yet he is playing on Quenneville's third line this season. There's a reason for that. He has been a top-line or second-line player throughout his career, but he injured his knee in November and missed about a month of action.

    Since his return last month, Quenneville has played him on several different lines, and there's no reason to think he won't continue to be moved around. However, he has the speed, brilliant shot and instincts to score key goals at big moments.

    Sharp has nine goals and 12 assists in 29 games, but he also has a minus-seven rating.

    Based on his track record, Sharp's plus-minus is likely to improve since he was plus-13 last season and a career-best plus-28 in 2011-12.

    Andrew Shaw is not the most skilled center, but he is one of the team's hardest-working players and a hustler every second he is on the ice.

    Even though Shaw is 5'10" and 180 pounds, he will challenge much bigger players in the dirty areas of the ice. Still, there's no getting around that Shaw has just six goals and six assists along with a minus-six rating in 40 games.

    Teuvo Teravainen is a new addition to the line, as he was called up from Rockford after the Versteeg injury. Teravainen has been considered the Blackhawks' most dangerous prospect since he was drafted in 2012, and he is a skilled and creative offensive player.

    He desperately wanted to get the call up to the Blackhawks, and while he has not scored in his first four games, he looks like he belongs at this level.

    Quenneville showed his trust in Teravainen when he gave him 14:42 of ice time, including 5:52 in the third period, on Jan. 9 against Edmonton.

    Grade: B

No. 4 Line: Dan Carcillo, Marcus Kruger, Ben Smith

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    Ben Smith
    Ben SmithUSA TODAY Sports

    While upper-level teams often talk about "rolling four lines" throughout a 60-minute game or a season, few actually do it on a consistent basis.

    Quenneville will occasionally shorten his bench and go with three lines, but he regularly plays four lines and gives his No. 4 line a chance to contribute at key moments.

    Right wing Ben Smith is one of the most impressive fourth-line players in the league. It's not his statistics—five goals and four assists along with a plus-three rating—but it's his work ethic, hustle and willingness to compete for 60 minutes.

    Center Marcus Kruger is one of the best defensive players on the team, and he plays a key role when the Blackhawks are killing penalties. The Blackhawks are the top-rated team in the league in short-handed situations, and Kruger is one of the primary reasons. 

    Dan Carcillo has made a contribution at the left wing spot this year, and he gives the Blackhawks a degree of toughness. In addition to standing up for his teammates, Carcillo has four goals and three assists in 30 games and a plus-three rating.

    Despite his positive play this season, it wouldn't be a surprise if Carcillo was replaced at some point during the second half of the year.

    Grade: B-


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