Blackhawks Need to Change Lines to Jump-Start Offense

The Chicago Blackhawks have gone a surprising 6-2-0 in their last eight games since Derek King took over as interim head coach. He hasn’t come in and made any sweeping changes, just a few tweaks here and there. But a clean slate and a simple attitude shift have done wonders for this previously lost squad. That said, the Blackhawks are still having trouble scoring, so King got out the blender and changed up the forward lines once again for their most recent tilt against the St. Louis Blues. But I’m still not convinced it’s enough. Let’s take a look at the line progression since King took over, and suggest some extra tweaks while we’re at it.

Blackhawks Forward Lines Against the Blues

Here are the new-look lines King iced for the Blues game:

Hagel-Toews-Kane

DeBrincat-Dach-Kubalik

Kurashev-Borgstrom-Carpenter

Hardman-R.Johnson-Khaira

The biggest changes here was putting Jonathan Toews and Brandon Hagel on the top line, Kirby Dach on the second, splitting up Patrick Kane and Alex DeBrincat, but also getting Dominik Kubalik back into the top-six.

Jonathan Toews Chicago Blackhawks
Jonathan Toews was recently moved to top line center for the Chicago Blackhawks. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Coach King explained to the media after their Thanksgiving Day practice why he was switching up the lines once again.  

We’re just kind of a little stale right now. We’ve got guys who can score goals but we’re just not scoring them. I was talking to some people and just if it ends, that first line goes out and they don’t get anything, our second and third line, they’ve been struggling a little bit, certain guys.

So I thought we’d get three guys on different lines and maybe mix them a little bit and give it a try. 

I assume King is referring to Toews, Kubalik and likely Dach when he mentioned certain guys struggling a bit. It sure would be nice to see these guys start scoring. Let’s look at some background information to get a better picture.

Blackhawks Forward Lines Against the Canucks & Flames

Here were the lines from the previous two games against the Vancouver Canucks and the Calgary Flames:

DeBrincat-Dach-Kane

Hagel-Toews-Strome

Kubalik-Borgstrom-Hardman

Kurashev (R. Johnson)-Carpenter-Khaira

The main difference here from the first five contests (see below) was Dylan Strome being moved up from third line center to second line wing, and Kubalik being demoted to the third line, now centered by Henrik Borgstrom.

Blackhawks Forward Lines During King’s First 5 Games as Coach

With a few variations here and there, mostly on the third and fourth lines, here’s the gist of the forward lines King deployed in his first five games as interim head coach:

 DeBrincat-Dach-Kane

Kubalik-Toews-Hagel (*Khaira)

Hardman-Strome-Borgstrom

Kurashev-Carpenter-R.Johnson

*Jujhar Khaira filled in on the second line while Hagel sat out with a shoulder injury.

Dylan Strome, Dylan Larkin
Dylan Strome was given a stint as the team’s third line center when Derek King first took over coaching duties for the Chicago Blackhawks. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Nam Y. Huh)

Sure, changing things up is the name of the game. Obviously you have to experiment to figure out what works best, so I commend King and company for their adjustments. But I’m still not sure if the lines for the Blues game are the right changes, or whether they are enough. Let’s break this down line by line.

Blackhawks First Line

When King first came to town, putting Kane and DeBrincat back together was a no-brainer. It’s one of the first things I applauded him on. These are the two best players on the team, and they just have such natural chemistry together.

Related – 4 Things Coach King Is Doing Differently

I get where King was coming from when he split them up to try to get some of the other guys going. But then we witness Kane to DeBrincat for the overtime win and realize they need to be on the same line together. It’s just a given. My vote would be to put DeBrincat back on the first line, and move Hagel back to the second line.  

However, I do believe changing the top line center to Toews is the right thing to do. Now don’t get me wrong; Dach is doing a lot of great things. He’s sound defensively, he’s strong off puck, and he’s good at creating chances for his linemates. But, he can’t win a faceoff to save his life, and he hasn’t scored a goal of his own since Oct. 27. It might be time to move him down in the lineup to gain some confidence back. Toews, on the other hand, wins more faceoffs than anyone else on the team, and he has a lot of experience being that No. 1 guy.

Blackhawks First Line Decision:

Debrincat-Toews-Kane

Blackhawks Second Line

Once again, I was so excited when King initially put Toews and Kubalik back together on the second line. These two have chemistry that dates back to the 2019-20 season when Kubalik scored 30 goals in his rookie season, mostly alongside Toews. But then the coach had them separated in favor of Strome being on the second line instead.

Kubalik is known for his shot; he’s good at scoring goals. We complained all last season as well that Kuby was not being put in a position to succeed on the third line with limited ice time and partners. So, getting Kubalik back on the second line makes sense.

Dominik Kubalik, Chicago Blackhawks
Dominik Kubalik would be best utilized among the top-six forwards for the Chicago Blackhawks. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

He’s not with Toews, but in my scenario he would be back with his other old linemate in Hagel (who’s on a three-game goal streak, by the way). And Dach is more known as a set-up guy than a shooter himself. Who better to feed Kubalik the puck? As we discussed above, being on the second line versus the top line could also build Dach’s confidence moving forward.     

Blackhawks Second Line Decision:

Kubalik-Dach-Hagel

Blackhawks Third Line

This is where things get dicey. I understand the Blackhawks don’t have a whole lot of dynamic offensive talent in their bottom-six. So, they’re trying to grind it out. But can’t they insert a bit of a scoring threat with the grinders?

Right now the third line has Borgstom at center. The Blackhawks are high on the 2016 first round (23rd overall) draft pick, hoping that a change of scenery (from the Florida Panthers organization) will do him some good. So far that hasn’t really paid off, but the Blackhawks seem committed to giving him a chance to prove himself. I would also continue with Philipp Kurashev on the third line.  

Henrik Borgstrom, Chicago Blackhawks
Henrik Borgstrom is hoping to benefit from a change of scenery with the Chicago Blackhawks. (a href=httpswww.instagram.comjmstarr_Jess StarraThe Hockey Writers)

Kurashev has been playing on the fourth line of late, and was even made a healthy scratch against the Flames. Coach King indicated the 22-year-old has had a few too many turnovers of late, and a scratch might be a good wake up call for him. Sure enough, he was deployed back on the third line against the Blues.

In his rookie season Kurashev was often the top line center between Kane and DeBrincat. He did quite well for himself, posting eight goals and 16 points in 54 games. He’s a smart and skilled player. If he’s not part of the Blackhawks top-six forwards, he should be part of a third line that’s more than just a checking line, but a line that’s a threat to score.

Related – Blackhawks Need Kirby Dach to Show More

Finally, what the heck is going on with Strome?! I have no idea why he was a healthy scratch against the Blues. When he was elevated to the wing on the second line for a few games, he actually played quite well. I don’t know; maybe they were showcasing him because a trade is imminent. But if he remains with the team, I would have him on the third line as an offensive threat. And all three of these guys could potentially split face-off duties for any given game depending on who is hot.

Blackhawks Third Line Decision:

Kurashev-Borgstrom-Strome

Blackhawks Fourth Line

Finally, I would round out the fourth line with Ryan Carpenter and Khaira. These are both solid veteran players that are hard to play against and fit that mold of fourth line grinders. And guess what? Khaira is actually pretty good at winning draws, and even has a bit of an offensive upside (two goals so far this season). He’s quietly won 32-of-53 faceoffs this season for a 60% success rate. The Blackhawks could use that to their advantage.

Jujhar Khaira, Chicago Blackhawks
Jujhar Khaira has proven to be a solid depth player for the Chicago Blackhawks. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

As the third and final member of that line, my pick is Reese Johnson. He actually scored his first goal and earned his first assist of the season against the Flames, as well as adding another assist in the Blues game. Mike Hardman becomes the odd man out here. In the last four games, Hardman’s ice time has decreased from 11:40 minutes to 7:44 minutes. He’s seems to be falling out of favor with the coaching staff.

Blackhawks Fourth Line Decision:

Carpenter-Khaira-R. Johnson

Proposed Forward Line Combinations for the Blackhawks

I’ll preface this by saying it’s an ongoing struggle to find the right combinations to get pucks on net as well as limit the opponents’ opportunities. These lines are what I would suggest right now. But hockey is so fluid and this is all going to change throughout the season. That said, here is what I would go with for the time being.

DeBrincat-Toews-Kane

Kubalik-Dach-Hagel

Kurashev-Borgstrom-Strome

Carpenter-Khaira-R.Johnson

Let’s also remember there are a few Blackhawks forwards out right now due to injury. Tyler Johnson and MacKenzie Entwistle will be back in the mix eventually. We shall see where the forwards stand and who they might replace at that time.


The Blackhawks are winning games and let’s hope that continues. They are doing a lot of things right, as well as how to do work out some of the kinks moving forward. I believe these line combinations could be a step in the right direction.


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