It’s a little over halfway through the 2019-20 season, and the Chicago Blackhawks can’t afford to lose many games to stay relevant in the playoff picture. It’s a tough spot to be in, with virtually no room for error. How they handle the next handful of games will determine where they stand moving forward, and whether they will be buyers or sellers at the trade deadline.
Never a dull moment, right? So let’s get to the January roundtable! The usual suspects of Meghan Dillon, Adam Cumbee, Greg Boysen and Gail Kauchak give you their thoughts on the current state of the Blackhawks.
Why don’t we start with the trending topic? The top line of Dominik Kubalik, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane has been on fire of late. They’ve become the new “nuclear option”. But with injuries to Brandon Saad and Dylan Strome, there’s not much depth or chemistry in the lineup beyond that.
Fortunately, it appears Saad and Strome are both close to returning. When they do would you keep the nuclear option together regardless, or not? How would you formulate the top-six?
Top-Six Lineup with Healthy Roster
Toews, Kane and Kubalik are killing it! I think it’s a good option to experiment with this line while they can before Saad and Strome return. I would put all five of them in the top-six alongside Alex DeBrincat or Andrew Shaw when he returns.
I don’t know how I would formulate the lineup since chemistry is key and anything can happen in the coming weeks. Only time will tell as the injured players return to the lineup.
When it comes to Kane and Toews, you generally know what you’re going to get. One can pretty much put them anywhere and they’re going to make some magic. Both players have been lights out lately, and their new linemate has been a big part of that.
With the way Kubalik has thrived since moving up to the top line, breaking them up would be counterproductive. It’s the perfect situation for the rookie to develop. I say slot a healthy Saad and Strome next to DeBrincat, and that top-six looks pretty nasty as they push for the playoffs.
I would keep Kubalik, Toews and Kane together. But considering how long it took head coach Jeremy Colliton to put them on the same line in the first place, I would bet he splits them up when he gets some reinforcements.
Strome and Saad can definitely add to the depth and allow you to keep that top line intact as long as it’s still producing. Strome can go back on the second line with his pal DeBrincat. Then when Saad returns you could possibly pair him with Dach on the third line. This gives you three lines that can actually score regardless of who plays on the right side with them.
I’ve always been a fan of keeping Toews and Kane separate except in emergency situations. Having Saad and Strome out qualified as an emergency situation.
But if you recall, Saad was playing some of his best hockey before he was sidelined. And he has excellent chemistry with Toews. I think Saad, Toews and Kubalik should be the top line, leaving Kane and company as a threat on the second line.
And who would that company be? Reunite Strome and DeBrincat and let them run wild in the offensive zone with Showtime. And pray the defensemen on the ice with this trio are on top of their game at all times.
So there’s a pretty big game coming up for the Blackhawks. On Jan. 21 former Blackhawks’ head coach Joel Quenneville is coming to town with his new club, the Florida Panthers. This will be the first time the two squads have met this season, and it’s appropriate it will take place in Quenneville’s old barn, the United Center. This should be a pretty emotional reunion of sorts, and fun to watch. What are you looking forward to the most in this momentous matchup?
Blackhawks/Panthers Game Expectations
I’m not going to lie; I’ve been looking forward to this game all season. It’s going to be emotional for fans, players, and Quenneville. It’s emotional when a former player returns after being traded, and this falls into a similar category.
As far as the game goes, the Panthers will have the upper hand with Quenneville knowing how the Blackhawks work, so it will be an entertaining matchup all-around.
The return of the mustachioed legend versus his baby-faced replacement; emotional is absolutely right! Quenneville watched some of these players grow up, and now he gets to challenge them head-on. Both sides will come out with a chip on their shoulder, and Q should get a raucous ovation from the United Center crowd.
Quenneville’s specialty is shot suppression and he has a very keen attention to detail, something the Blackhawks seem to struggle with. His familiarity with a lot of the players and their tendencies should make watching the chess match develop over 60 minutes a very fun watch.
I look forward to seeing Colliton squirm a bit when Quenneville is given a hero’s welcome while he likely hears some boos during the pre-game introductions. In all seriousness, once the puck drops it will just be another game and an important one for both teams. Both the Blackhawks and the Panthers are in no position to be leaving points on the ice, so it should be a hotly contested game.
We all know Quenneville is the second-winningest NHL coach of all time. He was also just voted Coach of the Decade. What makes him so good is he knows how to push the right buttons to motivate his players. He’s also a master at reading the game situation and making adjustments on the fly.
Colliton, on the other hand, is still an unproven entity. He inherited a not-so-great roster and got thrown to the wolves probably way before he was ready. He’s been trying to tread water ever since.
While many have already thrown in the towel on Colliton, I want to believe in him. He has a great hockey mind, and we’ve seen from the evolution of this season he’s willing to learn from his mistakes and modify accordingly.
I’m looking forward to the coaching decisions and adjustments in this game. How will Colliton match up and answer to Quenneville (and vice versa) as the game unfolds? This matchup will be a good measuring stick for the young bench boss. If he can hold his own against the great Coach Q, then maybe there’s some hope for him yet. If not…well let’s just play the game already and see what happens!
Oh, and by the way, Colliton would be dead in the water in a best-of-seven-game series against Quenneville. Aw man I miss the playoffs, and I miss Coach Q!
And now for our final consideration of this month’s roundtable. Let’s face it; we all know Kane will end up as the top scorer for the Blackhawks this season. As of the recent matchup against the Canadiens, he leads the team with 24 goals, 36 assists and 60 points. This is six goals, nine assists and 21 points! in front of the second-place member of the team in each category.
Even at 31 years of age, Kane continues to be a top playmaker for the team and the league. The Blackhawks are fortunate to have had him on their side for the last 13 seasons. But the question remains, who do you think will earn second place once it’s all said and done?
Top Season Point-Scorer After Kane
Meghan’s Pick: Kubalik
DeBrincat usually finishes near Kane, but it looks like Kubalik might take the honors this season. He truly is the dark horse of the Blackhawks. I don’t think anyone expected him to do this well, and I’m loving every minute of it!
Adam’s Pick: Toews
While Toews is the closest behind Kane in points, the return of a healthy Strome should help his own and DeBrincat’s numbers jump up as well. The dark horse in all of this is Kubalik, as he is climbing up the leaderboard with his recent efforts.
All of that being said, I think Toews maintains that second spot, especially if they keep the “nuclear” line intact. Playing alongside Kane, who always finds ways to score, and Kubalik, who can’t stop scoring, is going to help all three excel.
Being flanked by two talented goal-scorers is an ideal scenario for the two-way forward to continue accruing points.
Greg’s Pick: Toews
Toews is the smart money in the race for second place, especially if he keeps playing on the same line as Kane. Kubalik has thrown his hat in the ring with his recent hot streak, but it remains to be seen if he can keep up this scoring pace. DeBrincat has yet to have one of those massive scoring runs we’ve seen from him in the past. So if he gets hot down the stretch he could finish second.
I’ll still go with the safe pick in Toews.
Gail’s Pick: DeBrincat
Call me crazy, but my money is on DeBrincat. He’s been a bit quiet of late, especially on 5-on-5 play. But he’s still third place in points on the season, and his eight power play goals leads the team.
He’s been so snake-bitten of late, things are bound to turn around for him. I think there’s a second wind in store for the Cat. He’s going to finish out the season strong.
I have to say I’m really surprised how many different options were offered for the ideal top-six lineup. I mean seriously, who would disagree with my expert opinion?! It’s obvious the Blackhawks/Panthers matchup has quite the buildup. Will it live up to our expectations? And you better believe we will revisit the top point-scorers at the end of the season.
As always we welcome comments, and thanks for reading!
Gail Kauchak has covered the Chicago Blackhawks as a content writer since 2014. She previously wrote for Fansided’s Blackhawk Up, and has been part of The Hockey Writer’s team since 2017. It’s not always easy to balance life’s responsibility’s with one’s passion, but Gail’s doing her best to make it happen. Quote to live by, “Follow your dreams, and good things will happen.” Wait, maybe it’s “Good things happen when you shoot the puck!” You get the idea.
Follow Gail for her unique commentary about this storied franchise. And be sure to catch her and the rest of the Blackhawks’ crew on their weekly Blackhawks Banter show, as well as follow her on Twitter.