The NHL injury cycle will continue for the Chicago Blackhawks, as what was originally labeled as a day-to-day injury for fourth line forward Brad Mills has apparently become something more. As a result, the Blackhawks have outright shifted philosophies for tonight’s game against the Winnipeg Jets, as it appears they will start seven defensemen for what is likely the first time this season.
With Mills now added to the week-to-week list of Michael Kostka and Michal Handzus, the Blackhawks have altered to go rather conservative for tonight’s game. Both Sheldon Brookbank and Michal Rozsival will split time while Jeremy Morin is likely the healthy scratch.
Although less apparent, this will also extend the trial of Ben Smith as a permanent fixture at the fourth line position. Despite Mills seeming to be a solution on the penalty kill unit which ranks last in the league in times shorthanded, the Blackhawks’ special teams unit has improved slightly as the season nears the quarter mark.
Mills is simply not a viable option offensively for the team, so it truly depends on how the still 30th ranked penalty kill performs in his now extended absence. Smith can also factor into the decision if he boosts his statistical output closer to what it was during the preseason.
In eight games this season the fourth line winger has tallied three points, with one goal already against the Jets. Smith fired three shots on net that night, a season high, and registered a plus-three rating for the fourth line, a personal best.
Smith and the rest of the Blackhawks will face Al Montoya. Montoya is making a solid case for the starting job in his second consecutive start and has only allowed six goals on a .939 save percentage. An impressive game tonight can build the confidence Smith needs to earn a permanent roster spot even when Mills returns.
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