Patrick Sharp will likely make his return to the Chicago Blackhawks’ lineup on Tuesday night when the team faces the Minnesota Wild in St. Paul, according to Mark Lazerus of the Chicago Sun-Times. Dave Bolland, on the other hand, is still day-to-day with a lower body injury, and there’s no timetable yet on his return to the team.
UPDATE: Sharp has travelled with the team to Minnesota, so his presence in the lineup is a foregone conclusion. Bolland did not make the trip.
Despite the absence of these two players, the Blackhawks have been playing some great hockey lately. Outside of a shootout loss to the St. Louis Blues, the Hawks have won four of their last five games and clinched a playoff spot with their win Sunday against the Nashville Predators. They are also now tops in the league not only in goals for (3.2) but goals against (2.1) as well. With this team clicking on all cylinders, getting guys like Sharp and Bolland back just seems to be icing on the cake.
The only problem, if you can call it one, is that there is no definitive place in which to slot these guys when they return. Yes, Sharp could easily replace Daniel Carcillo on the second line when he returns, but who plays center on that line? Or wing, for that matter, with Patrick Kane getting bumped up in the third period of Sunday’s game to first line duties and Marian Hossa getting shifted down?
Head coach Joel Quenneville has made some smart decisions in recent weeks when it comes to his roster. Whether it was that Kane-Hossa swap or the decision to break up Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith to help shore up his defense, Quenneville is hitting a lot of right buttons at a time when chemistry is becoming more and more of an asset.
When Bolland and Sharp come back, here is a lineup that Quenneville should strongly consider:
There were some skeptics, this blog included, that dislikee the idea of breaking up the team’s productive third line, but in the course of two games with that unit, Michal Handzus has fit right in, feeding Bryan Bickell for a goal on Saturday and seeing Bickell tally another one on Sunday. That line isn’t going to be touched, in tune with Quenneville’s “stick with the hot hand” tendency, so that leaves the second and fourth lines for Bolland to slot into.
The reason Bolland shouldn’t skate on that second line is a simple one: he hasn’t played well enough to warrant it. His offensive game has been dreadful as of late, despite his two goals in a game last week against the Detroit Red Wings, and he has even admitted that it’s tough having a team’s primary defensive stoppers go out against him.
In order to avoid that, Bolland should be part of a newly configured fourth line that combines grit (Bolland, Andrew Shaw) with defensive prowess (Michael Frolik), and is united by a solid amount of offensive talent as well.
The lineup described above would be devoid of some of the grit that guys like Carcillo and Brandon Bollig (who has been playing better as of late) bring to the table, but with the way this team is constructed, the puck possession ability and improved forechecking of guys like Kane and Marcus Kruger win out over physicality.
The Hawks have a game predicated on puck possession and depth, and this lineup encompasses those elements in the most effective way possible.