It’s no secret that the Chicago Blackhawks have been in a bit of a slump lately. Not only has the team lost three in a row to crucial Western Conference opponents in St. Louis, Dallas, and Los Angeles, but the last two of those have come by a combined score of 10-2. Those are not the kinds of numbers fans have expected from their defending-champion Hawks.
Slumps of this fashion are hardly ever of a singular cause, and Joel Quenneville certainly has his work cut out for him as he strives to ready his squad for the upcoming playoffs. However, there is one thing that Q can do right now that would improve his lineup dramatically: sit Brandon Mashinter.
Failing to Make the Grade
Mashinter is a tough player to root against. He’s a journeyman NHLer who finally received a shot at being a lineup regular for Chicago this season. He works hard on the ice and stands up for his teammates when needed. But as much as I would like to see him remain in the lineup, he is taking the place of more talented players on the roster.
The last game against L.A. serves as a perfect example of this. Rather than play Dennis Rasmussen or Richard Panik on his team’s last line, Quenneville opted to insert Mashinter into the lineup. Once he took up a game-day spot, Mashinter received a game-low 8:08 of ice time in a brutal loss to a conference rival. Not only have both Rasmussen and Panik been productive when playing for Chicago this season, but Mashinter has also been among the worst players on the roster.
Of regular forwards, he has the second worst 5v5 GF%, worst 5v5 CF%, and worst iCor/60, all while taking over 32% of his starts in the offensive zone.
The above graph (courtesy of Emmanuel Perry’s sweet new site: www.corsica.hockey) provides an excellent visual representation of how far behind his teammates Mashinter is. If you read the graph correctly, you’ll be able see that Mashinter receives favorable zone starts, has the easiest matchups of any regular forward, and still possesses the puck less than any of Q’s other options.
The bottom line is that Quenneville is hurting his entire lineup by leaving Mashinter as his fourth left wing. When he plays, Rasmussen and Panik don’t. And when he’s in the lineup, his lack of minutes means everyone else has to play more to compensate.
The best option for the Blackhawks moving forward is clear: let Mashinter return to Rockford where he will continue to serve as their captain, while Rasmussen is re-inserted as a lineup regular until Marcus Kruger makes his inevitable return.
— Rockford IceHogs (@goicehogs) October 16, 2015
His heart-and-soul style will fit in better on a surging AHL team than on an NHL roster in the midst of a serious slump. Hopefully Quenneville begins to think similarly.