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updated: 11/13/2017 7:55 PM

Chicago Blackhawks' Schmaltz gets his swagger back

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  • A move to wing for Nick Schmaltz, bottom left, has helped him get his confidence back and also has gotten the attention of Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville, back right.

    A move to wing for Nick Schmaltz, bottom left, has helped him get his confidence back and also has gotten the attention of Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville, back right.
    Associated Press

 
 

It all happened so fast.

One second, New Jersey's Taylor Hall was sprinting into the neutral zone with plenty of open ice ahead of him.

In the blink of an eye, the puck was gone -- stripped by a crafty Nick Schmaltz, who turned on the afterburners and flew the other way into the Chicago Blackhawks' offensive zone.

Schmaltz -- with a pair of Devils bearing down on him -- took the puck deep down the right side, glanced up and spotted a streaking Alex DeBrincat coming down the middle of the ice.

His perfect pass sliced right through the two defenders and right onto DeBrincat's stick.

BAM! Goal.

Blackhawks 2, Devils 1.

This play was a microcosm of how Schmaltz played all night in a disappointing 7-5 loss to New Jersey on Sunday at the United Center.

The speed was back. The confidence. The swagger. The smiles.

"He skated way better," said coach Joel Quenneville. "(Against Carolina on Saturday) he was good. Tonight he was even more dangerous -- off the rush, with quickness, with speed, play selection."

Before the season began, we highlighted Schmaltz as a player who absolutely needed to take his game to the next level if the Hawks planned on contending for a Stanley Cup.

In that story, I wondered if Schmaltz could be a 60-point guy this season. That doesn't seem likely now -- he's on pace for 33 -- but Sunday's effort ought to go a long way in building his confidence.

Schmaltz looked fantastic in the season opener, then was injured against Columbus two nights later and missed four games with an upper-body injury.

When he returned, Schmaltz was unable to generate consistent scoring chances with Patrick Kane and Ryan Hartman/Richard Panik/Brandon Saad on his wings.

Finally, Quenneville pulled Schmaltz out of the middle and slid Artem Anisimov up to center that line.

His responsibilities lessened, Schmaltz is now free to use his speed and creativity.

And it's showing.

"He played awesome tonight, whether I was on the ice with him or not," Kane said after the loss to New Jersey. "He seems to have a lot of speed in his game and made a lot of nice plays."

Most of those plays came in the form of passes, but Schmaltz also turned down up a couple of prime chances to fire the puck at goalie Keith Kinkaid.

Quenneville said when in doubt, let 'er rip.

"With him, nothing wrong with shooting it," the coach said. "A shoot-first mentality can add some danger to his game."

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