Key to a Repeat: Second Line Stability
The second line for the Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks has been the largest issue of speculation so far in the preseason, and throughout camp for that matter. When the preseason began, Coach Joel Quenneville was adamant that Brandon Saad would be getting reps as the second line center, but as games and scrimmages continued on, that experiment was quickly abandoned, likely relegating Saad to the third line in the process.
That leaves the best option at the center of the second line to be Michal Handzus, but the 36-year-old veteran has not played a single game in the preseason, and will not get the chance to play with injured winger Marian Hossa before the puck drops against the Washington Capitals October 1.
Handzus is recovering from a broken wrist as well as MCL surgery he got during the offseason. The only form of consistency on the second line has been Patrick Sharp, who has certainly looked like himself during the preseason, and will be the go-to scorer once again on the second line.
With Hossa presumably healthy, even if he cannot go during the first game of the season, the pressure will be on Handzus to perform at the same level he did during the playoffs last season. Over that time span, Handzus had 11 points and a plus seven rating.
If Hossa cannot go at any point during the season, there are plenty of wingers waiting for their chance to play on a talented second line. So far in the preseason, that role has fallen onto Jimmy Hayes and he has been able to handle the pressure. However, the situation changes at center.
If Michal Handzus cannot stay healthy, Brandon Pirri will likely be the replacement. Pirri, however, is already likely NHL ready, and as far as Handzus is concerned, he is playing to defend his job from the AHL’s leading scorer.
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