With Andrew Shaw and Michal Handzus on the shelf, and with Brandon Pirri shipped back to the Rockford IceHogs to make room for Jeremy Morin and Joakim Nordstrom, Thursday night could be one of the most wacky nights of the year in terms of the lines that the Chicago Blackhawks will put out on the ice.
Fans received their first clue about the craziness through this tweet from Chicago Sun-Times scribe Mark Lazerus:
#Blackhawks rushes: Sharp-Toews-Hossa, Saad-Versteeg-Kane, Morin-Nordstrom-Brookbank, Bollig-Kruger-Smith. Q keeps the 4th line together.
— Mark Lazerus (@MarkLazerus) December 5, 2013
The first and fourth lines remain intact in these groupings, but the second and third lines are a complete mess. Kris Versteeg jumping up to center the second line is an interesting decision, considering that both Brandon Saad and Patrick Kane have experience playing the center position during their time with the Hawks.
The third line is even crazier, with Nordstrom slotting in at center between Jeremy Morin and Sheldon Brookbank. Nordstrom was drafted as a center by the Blackhawks, but he had played mostly the wing position during his initial stint with the team earlier this season. Putting him with Morin isn’t a bad idea, considering that Morin will up the ante in terms of offensive production for that line, but the decision to pair Nordstrom with a defenseman is definitely a head-scratcher.
Since Joel Quenneville always likes to shuffle up his lines during games anyway, odds are that these groupings won’t be a constant feature with the Hawks against the Minnesota Wild in Thursday’s game, but there are a couple of changes that seem more likely to be made than others.
For starters, Marcus Kruger will definitely take some shifts with the second line in this game. There is simply no way that Versteeg will be a constant presence on that line, and Kruger has shown that he is capable of being an offensive facilitator in limited time on the second line in his career.
In addition to that, Ben Smith could end up seeing some time at the third line center and wing spots in the game. Brookbank usually plays limited minutes in games that he is deployed on the wing, and with so many other forwards out of the lineup, Quenneville will probably try to pull a fourth liner up to cover any gaps in ice time rather than doubling up with guys like Kane and Saad in this one.
Finally, Quenneville will probably try to limit the amount of time guys like Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa spend on the penalty kill in this one. With another game coming up tomorrow night, the team’s third in four days, the veterans are going to need at least some rest in this one, and the penalty kill is one area where the team has definitely been a mix-and-match operation this season.
Needless to say, this game is going to be an interesting and chaotic one in the Twin Cities, and it will be fascinating to see how these lines end up shaking out.