Chicago Blackhawks look to get out of scoring rut
Any Chicago Blackhawks fans who have only witnessed their team's wretched offense might not be realize that scoring across the NHL is actually at a 20-year high so far this season.
It's true, though, as teams such as Tampa Bay (3.93 goals per game), the Islanders (3.86), and Toronto (3.8) were averaging nearly 4 goals per contest heading into Monday's games. Even squads such as New Jersey (3.77), Vegas (3.62), Florida (3.62) and Colorado (3.43) are lighting up the scoreboard.
The Hawks, on the other hand, haven't been able to get pucks past starting goaltenders, backups or even third-stringers pretty much all season.
How bad is it?
• Take out the season-opening 10-goal aberration against Pittsburgh and the Hawks are averaging 2.35 goals per game. Only Edmonton, at 2.31, is worse.
• The Hawks have 1 goal -- one! -- in 5-on-5 play in the last three games. And that came on a Jonathan Toews breakaway against Philadelphia.
• A defenseman hasn't scored in 12 straight games.
• The power play is a dismal 9-for-66, but it's even worse than that when you consider three of the conversions meant absolutely nothing in games the Hawks were getting blown out in. Take those out and they are 6-for-63, which would be a league-worst 9.5 percent.
After the Hawks were blanked 2-0 by Montreal on Sunday, coach Joel Quenneville indicated he might mix up the lines again Tuesday at practice.
"We have to find a way to generate some offense," he said.
With the results so dismal for so long, it's probably time to really shake things up and end the Nick Schmaltz-at-center experiment for now. Put Schmaltz on the left side with Patrick Kane and move Artem Anisimov up to center that line.
Schmaltz is winning just 41 percent of his faceoffs, which is forcing his line to win back the puck far too often. Putting him on the wing lessens his responsibilities and frees him up to create opposite Kane, much the way Artemi Panarin did the last two seasons.
The added bonus here is the 6-foot-4 Anisimov, who is winning 54.4 percent of his faceoffs, can go back to screening goaltenders, and he likely will pot a few rebounds as well.
After that, move Brandon Saad back to Jonathan Toews' line and leave Alex DeBrincat there; slot Tanner Kero in as third-line center with Patrick Sharp and Richard Panik; and make the fourth line Ryan Hartman-Tommy Wingels-John Hayden.
To me, that's a solid third line with all kinds of potential, but if Quenneville likes Panik with Toews, then simply slide DeBrincat down and have him play with Sharp again.
Another option is to bring what would be a highly motivated Vinnie Hinostroza up from Rockford, but the Hawks would have to risk putting a player such as Jordan Oesterle or Kero on waivers first.
Still, it might make sense to see if Hinostroza can add some scoring punch, either as a fourth-line winger or even as the third-line center in the above example.
No matter what Quenneville decides, Schmaltz figures the goals will start to come eventually.
"I don't know if we just need one to go in and we role from there, or what it is," he said. "(We) can't get too tight. Can't put too much pressure on ourselves. Just relax and make plays, because a lot of guys in here can make a lot of high-end plays."
Corey Crawford was named the NHL's No. 1 star of the week Monday. The Hawks' goalie went 2-1-0 last week with a .968 save percentage and 0.68 goals-against average. He posted back-to-back shutouts against Philadelphia and Minnesota.