The Chicago Blackhawks have played their last six games with a big hole in their lineup, as Andrew Shaw has been absent since taking a bit hit from Clayton Stoner in Game 1 of the team’s second round series against the Minnesota Wild.
His team does have a 4-2 record in those games that he’s sat out, but Shaw is now on the verge of returning. He has been skating with the team, and while it’s unclear whether or not he’ll be back for Game 2 on Wednesday night, it would appear that he will at least be back by Game 3 of the series when the scene shifts back to Los Angeles on Saturday night.
While Shaw’s status is uncertain for the team’s next game, questions about how effective he will be are already being asked. After all, missing several games due to a lower body injury can wreak havoc on a player’s rhythm, and the Blackhawks have finally seemed to figure out a recipe for success without the winger in the lineup. After struggling on the power play without him in the first three games of his absence, the Blackhawks have notched two power play tallies in their last five attempts, and are moving the puck with more impunity around the zone in the meantime.
With that in mind, the question becomes this for Quenneville and company: when should Shaw come back, and how big of a role should he be expected to fill when he does return?
To answer the first question, the smart move here would be to give him a few more practices and sit him out in Game 2. The Blackhawks have a 1-0 lead in the series already, and with the power play seeming to come around despite Shaw’s absence, there’s no pressing need to have him back in the lineup right away. Getting him an extra few days of practice will ensure that he is at all systems go for Saturday’s game, and using the stretched out schedule to his benefit would seem like a smart move.
If the Blackhawks end up going that route, then there really shouldn’t be a limitation on what he should be expected to do. Plugging him back on the power play would be a smart move, as it would help strengthen the second unit. Quenneville has been shuffling guys around quite a bit in recent games, and adding Shaw into the mix would give him more options. Shaw can also slot back in on the third line with Patrick Sharp and Kris Versteeg, which would maintain the top two lines that have been producing well recently and also keep the reunited fourth line together with a minimum of fuss.
Naturally, these theories could take a backseat if the Blackhawks come out of the gate struggling in Game 2, but for now, causing minimum disruption and putting Shaw back in the lineup would seem to be the best strategy.