Blackhawks Look to Injury Returns to Provide Spark

The Chicago Blackhawks are trying everything within their power to provide a spark and attain a win. They’ve gotten some fresh bodies back from injury, and head coach Luke Richardson has taken advantage by tweaking the lineup accordingly. It hasn’t been working so far, as the Blackhawks have been matching up against some pretty stiff opponents. The talent gap is definitely apparent. But could better results be on the way? Let’s look at the returning players and how they’ve been fitting into the lineup.  

Lafferty Lines up on the Top Line

Forward Sam Lafferty recently missed six games with a back injury, but returned on Dec. 9 against the Winnipeg Jets. He eased back in centering the fourth line for that game. But Andreas Athanasiou missed the next contest versus the Washington Capitals due to a family funeral. To the surprise of many, Lafferty took his place on the top line left wing alongside Max Domi and Patrick Kane. This placement has carried over to the last two games as well.

Sam Lafferty Chicago Blackhawks
Sam Lafferty is getting a shot on the top line with the Chicago Blackhawks. (Photo by Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

It might seem a bit unorthodox to have more of a grinding type of player on the top line, but when you’re losing you have to try different things. I personally like the usage of Lafferty to complement Domi and Kane. First off, he’s got the speed, which obviously is what they could be trying to replace since Athanasiou has great speed as well.

But Lafferty is also one of those versatile players that can play up and down in the lineup. He’s got some sneaky skill and enough smarts to play with the top-end players, and he also has that grit and tenacity that can help their line control and possess the puck. Although, the results haven’t been there, so we shall see if this line deployment continues.

Johnson Reunited With Toews, but Short-Lived

Veteran Tyler Johnson has not had the best of luck for the past two seasons. He was out for extended time in the 2021-22 campaign with a few different injuries. This season, he’s missed 20 games due to a high ankle sprain. Johnson provided some good balance on this young team, and his presence was definitely missed. Which is why it was so exciting when he suited up for the Capitals game on Dec. 13. Sure enough, he contributed right away with a goal.

Unfortunately, Johnson’s return was short-lived.  He didn’t play the entire third period in his second game back against the Vegas Golden Knights on Dec. 15. Coach Richardson said after the game that his ankle was sore and he was questionable for the game against the Minnesota Wild the following day. Sure enough, he didn’t play in that matchup. Richardson stressed how unfortunate that was because of all the intangibles he brings.

Related – Blackhawks News & Rumors: Ovechkin, Toews, Johnson, Canada

I think Johnson’s a bit of an undervalued piece in this lineup. Having him around just gives you one more veteran top-six player that allows for so much more flexibility with the combinations. Plus, he’s developed great chemistry with both Jonathan Toews and Taylor Raddysh on the second line, which I don’t really think anyone else has right now. Hopefully he will be healed up soon and can return to the lineup.

Mitchell in the Mix

Many feel this is a make-or-break season for young defenseman Ian Mitchell. Now in his third NHL season, does the 23-year-old have what it takes to make it in the NHL? Unfortunately, Mitchell got hit with the injury bug before training camp even started. Upon recovery, he’s spent some quality time with the Rockford IceHogs, as well as playing two games with the Blackhawks in November.

Ian Mitchell Chicago Blackhawks
Ian Mitchell is trying to earn his way with the Chicago Blackhawks. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

On Dec. 1, Mitchell was recalled once again from the IceHogs, and suited up for the tilt against the New Jersey Devils on Dec. 6. He had a three-game stint with the team before being a healthy scratch the past two games in favor of fellow blueliner Caleb Jones. In his past three contests, Mitchell averaged a healthy 16:56 minutes of ice time, notched his first assist of the season, and even got some looks on the second power play unit.  

Related – Blackhawks Should Consider Recalling These 3 IceHogs

In the meantime, defenseman Filip Roos was sent down to Rockford on Dec. 13. This leads one to believe the Blackhawks are committing to a rotation of Mitchell and Jones moving forward. It will be interesting to see what playing time Mitchell receives, and what he can make of those opportunities.

Tinordi Tears It Up

Speaking of defensemen, Jarred Tinordi recently missed five games due to a hip injury. He re-entered the lineup a little early, against the Winnipeg Jets on Dec. 9. The plan was for him to return the following game. But Caleb Jones was having his own hip problems, so Tinordi volunteered to go. Ironically, on his very first shift Tinordi received an inadvertent skate to the chin. He left the ice and ended up receiving around 75 stitches before returning in the second period. -Charlie’s article link. That just goes to show hockey players are a different breed.

Despite said stitches, Tinordi has not backed down from his characteristic physical play. In the last four games, he has delivered 13 hits including this one against Golden Knights’ Paul Cotter.

That’s quite the commitment and dedication, especially when you’re on a losing team like the Blackhawks, where bringing that energy every night can be very difficult.

Mrazek Makes a Comeback

Finally, goaltender Petr Mrazek has dealt with his fair share of injuries as well. Earlier in the season, he missed eight games with a groin injury. Then, against the New York Rangers on Dec. 3, he missed the third period after suffering another groin injury to the other side.

Fortunately, this injury only sidelined him for three games. He returned on Dec. 13 against the Capitals, and also suited up on Dec. 16 versus the Wild. Having the 30-year-old netminder healthy and available certainly adds some stability in the crease for the Blackhawks. Especially when he’s on his game, which Mrazek was against the Wild.

He made some high-quality saves such as the one above, in an effort to keep the team in front of him in the game. Hopefully Mrazek can stay healthy and help lead the Blackhawks to some wins.

Some other good goalie news is that Alex Stalock has been practicing with the team since Dec. 8. Stalock sustained a concussion from a hit by New York Islanders’ Casey Cizikas on Nov. 1.

Related – Blackhawks Roundtable: Kane, Toews, Adjustments & Predictions

It’s a tough time right now to be a Blackhawks’ fan as the losses keep adding up. But injuries certainly have not helped the team’s cause. Now most everyone is getting healthy and returning to contribute. Will it lead to a win or two? Let’s hope so!