The season began with a familiar question for the Chicago Blackhawks. It was one that related to the center position. Only this time, it was the third line center spot. With Dave Bolland moving up to the second line, who would hold down the middle on the checking line for the Hawks?
The answer turned out to be Andrew Shaw. It was a move that was a bit intriguing, and a bit concerning at the same time. Put Bryan Bickell and Viktor Stalberg on either side of him, and you get a gigantic wild card heading into the season.
So far, it’s proven to be anything but a concern for the Blackhawks.
Shaw overcame a slow start and has actually been pretty impressive of late. He’s looked a bit better on the power play, but our concern is what he’s doing on the third line. He’s winning almost 50 percent of his draws, which is much better than either Bolland or Marcus Kruger. It looks like he’s starting to play with that chip on his shoulder again, which is terrific news.
Stalberg has looked very good early on, after making the transition from the left side to the right side. He continues to use that excellent speed effectively, and it helps to set up chances for himself and his linemates. His left-handed shot is also a nice asset from that right side.
If there’s an unsung hero on this team right now, it’s probably Bickell. He has quietly been very good, playing the physical game and staying out of the box. If only he played down in front of the net a little more, instead of trying to force that wrist shot from 20 feet out that he loves so much, he would be that much more effective.
The trio on the third line for the Hawks has combined for 19 points on the season. Obviously, compared to what they’re doing in the top six, that’s not an eye-popping total. But the way this combination of guys plays together is fun to watch. They’re excellent on the forecheck and are generating some chances, and they’ve helped swing momentum with that type of play on more than one occasion this year.
We’ll have to see how long it will take before Joel Quenneville throws the lines back into his blender (probably after they lose in regulation), but this has been a fun combination to watch, and they could remain together for the foreseeable future.