The Chicago Blackhawks have a three day break after dropping a tough game to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday night, but the only thing on the minds of fans at the moment is the health of captain Jonathan Toews.
Toews left Sunday’s game in the second period after being levelled along the boards by Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik, skating off the ice while holding his arm and wincing in pain. After the game, head coach Joel Quenneville said that the injury didn’t appear to be serious, and that Toews was day-to-day.
Taking the coach at his word, the question becomes a simple one for the Blackhawks: how should Quenneville structure his lineup if Toews is absent from Thursday’s game against the Minnesota Wild?
There are a couple of complicating circumstances that have to be addressed before slotting the lineup. Will Bryan Bickell make his return to the team on Thursday after missing the past several games with an upper body injury? Is Michal Handzus ailing after missing most of Sunday’s game despite Toews’ absence? Neither of those questions has a clear answer at this point, but for right now, we’ll assume that Bickell will be available just for the sake of argument.
In that situation, here are the lines that Quenneville should strongly consider using:
Those line combinations provide a great mix of scoring and defensive prowess throughout the lineup, and should help address some of the defensive struggles that the team has been going through in recent weeks. Marcus Kruger is a very capable two-way player who has been playing some good hockey lately, and pairing him up with a scorer like Patrick Sharp could provide some good punch at the top of the lineup.
That second line is where things get more interesting. Teuvo Teravainen has been criticized a bit during his first three games with the Hawks for not shooting enough, and there have also been questions about his defensive discipline that were asked before he made the trip to North America from Finland. Pairing him up with a couple of defensively responsible forwards who can also score goals in Marian Hossa and Brandon Saad would be a matchup nightmare for teams to have to deal with.
The third and fourth lines would be a more fluid situation than the top two, but both come with their fair share of assets. Putting Jeremy Morin on a fourth line with Peter Regin would definitely be a boost because of their complimentary skillsets, and throwing Brandon Bollig in there would add a good physical element to that line. Andrew Shaw and Bryan Bickell have shown some great chemistry in the past, and giving them a quick winger like Kris Versteeg adds an interesting wrinkle to the proceedings.
If Michal Handzus is able to play on Thursday, then the best spot for him would likely be to put him on the fourth line as a winger, with Morin taking a seat again.