When Patrick Sharp went down with a shoulder injury last week, it was assumed that the team would need to shuffle up their lines a bit to keep their offensive rhythm going. This, along with an infusion of fresh talent from their AHL affiliate, the Rockford IceHogs, would surely be used to prevent too significant of a drop-off.
What the Blackhawks did instead was perplexing to most fans. They brought back up forward Brandon Bollig, who had only been sent down a day before his recall, and have been playing him on the fourth line since. Head coach Joel Quenneville has also been tinkering with lines, moving up Bryan Bickell to the second line among others.
In the time since Sharp was injured, the Hawks have lost both games, and have looked lost on both sides of the puck a good chunk of the time. The question, with Sharp still weeks away from returning, is whether or not the Hawks need to call up a more skilled forward than Bollig to help fill the void.
There is a strong argument that they need to do so. For starters, the original members of the third line, Bickell, Andrew Shaw, and Viktor Stalberg, have all struggled the past two games since their separation, with Bickell’s garbage time goal Friday being the only point the trio has collectively scored. When you factor in Quenneville needing to continuously shuffle lines in order to achieve results, you can see why going back to what worked before and just calling up a guy specifically to replace Sharp could be a good idea.
On the other hand, this team’s struggles could just be chalked up to weariness, both physical and mental. They played seven games in 11 days, a grind that only a season like this could be an obstacle. The team has not only looked bad at times on offense, despite their five goal outburst on Sunday, but their defense and penalty killing have been awful as well. Guys are constantly out of position, got massively outworked by the quick forwards the Avalanche and Oilers threw at them, and in general looked nothing like the team that was so dominant in the first half of the season.
Even though it has been a collective failure by the team, Stan Bowman needs to admit that bandaging the wound won’t work, and call up a guy like Jeremy Morin or Jimmy Hayes to pick up the offensive slack. Both of those players have shown that they are capable of playing at the NHL level, and their stats in Rockford this year go to prove that.
In addition, this team has to be cognizant of the fact that they can’t allow momentum to start rolling in the wrong direction. Even though their losing “streak” only stands at a paltry two games, there is a tough road trip looming on their schedule, with the resurgent Blue Jackets being the first date on Thursday. Add in games against the Avs in Denver again next Monday and Anaheim next Wednesday in California, and this team could find itself reeling at a time when it can’t afford to do so.
There is by no means reason to hit the panic button yet, but it also doesn’t mean that the team should proceed as if everything is clicking on all cylinders. Little tweaks like this can often mean the difference between a successful season and a mediocre one, and while the Blackhawks would have to struggle a great deal more to achieve the latter of those, they still have work to do to make the first scenario a reality.