The number of uptempo puck possession teams is certainly growing in the NHL, with physicality and fighting continuing to take a back seat to stars and finesse, for better or worse. On the forefront of the trend continues to be the Chicago Blackhawks, whose franchise resurgence continues with two Stanley Cup titles in the last five years.
Recent memory indicates that the Blackhawks also are one of the now majority of teams which carry seven defenseman. However, the addition of Michael Kostka this year meant a slight change in philosophy, as the team alternated between Kostka, Michal Rozsival and Sheldon Brookbank to pair with defenseman Nick Leddy.
However, the shuffle has ended for now. Kostka is now on the IR retroactive to October 22nd, and forwards Jeremy Morin and Brad Mills have been recalled to be slotted in. This means Brandon Pirri may be moved up to second line center, finally earning his chance.
This will likely spell limited minutes for the likes of Ben Smith on the fourth line, and possibly second-liners Marian Hossa and Michal Handzus. Smith has played in six games this year and has only registered five shots, despite scoring on one of them. With regards to anyone on the fourth line becoming scratchable, Brandon Bollig is needed due to his physical play, and Marcus Kruger is needed to lead the penalty kill unit.
That being said, this seems to be an experimental move, as game tempo will change when either Morin or Mills are in. The tempo has been crucial to the team as two repeating themes are occurring. Primarily, the third period has been incredibly stagnant and led not only to lost points, but to an increased number of minutes for many skaters which could end up snowballing in the playoff race.
However, the tempo has also needed improvement during the first period. Stagnant starts have been frequent to begin this year, especially against lower quality opponents. The only thing that seems to bail the team out is solid second period play and the ability to score quickly.
Consistency is a key going forward, but it is clear that both Morin and the newly-signed Mills have earned their shot at NHL competition. Morin has been on an absolute tear in the AHL, scoring eight points in eight games and has the potential to be a high quality NHL scorer.
Meanwhile, Mills has just been signed to a one-year contract, and is a bit more NHL savvy than Morin, having played in 31 games to this point. He has posted four points, but has never been seen in a Blackhawks uniform before, meaning it will be interesting to see whom on the active roster he takes over for when he gets the chance.
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