Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Blackhawks' Toews Heating Up With His New Linemates

By Randy Holndoner (@bhawkschatter)

The Chicago Blackhawks have found themselves winners of 7 of their last 8 games after defeating the Conference leading, Minnesota Wild in their own building for the 2nd time in two weeks, with a 5-3 victory, leaving them 5 points behind the Wild.  Coming off of the bye week, the Blackhawks lost a home contest to the Edmonton Oilers, 2-1, in which they could have easily had a different outcome, out shooting the Oilers, 39-22.  But this has been their only smudge over the last few weeks.

What has been the difference over these last set of games?  Captain, Jonathan Toews has taken over, with a vengeance.  Ever since the departure of Brandon Saad two years ago, Toews has never quite had a winger to compliment him and Marian Hossa.

Till now.  And the two players would not be anyone that you would have expected; Richard Panik and Nick Schmaltz.  The chemistry between them has been huge with quite the return over the last 6 games.

So who are these two wingers?  Panik, 26, was acquired January, 2016, thought to be a minor deal, with the Toronto Maple Leafs, for forward Jeremy Morin.  Originally a second round pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft by the Tampa Bay Lightning, Panik spent two years there before he was put on waivers and picked up by the Maple Leafs.  After being dealt to the Hawks, he spent 30 games with them tallying 8 points (6G 2A).  This year he started on fire with 6 goals on his first 9 shots of the season.  He's already broke career highs in almost offensive category.  He currently has 31 points (16G 15A).  He is in a contract year, so the Hawks will have yet more work to do to try and keep a blossoming star for the future.

Schmaltz, 20, was the Blackhawks' first round pick, 20th overall, in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft.  He started his rookie year with the big club for the first 28 games this season, where he registered just 4 points (1G 3A).  After spending a month with their AHL affiliate, Rockford Icehogs, where in 12 games, he tallied 9 points (6G 3A), he was brought back up to the Hawks.  Since then, the rookie has shined on the top line with Toews and Panik.

And Toews?  Well, Captain Clutch has come through huge in this stretch of games where they had not won in their previous 8 games against the WIld, or any of the 4 games they played against Winnipeg this year.  They've won in Minnesota twice and in Winnipeg in the middle of their 6 game road trip in which they went 5-1 to start the month.

What is more impressive, is that Toews tallied both game-winning goals in Minnesota while tallying 8 points in the process (4G 4A) and was a +7.  This against a team that is 21-8-1 at home and has a +60 goal differential.

Over his last 12 games, he has 20 points (8G 12A).

If General Manager, Stan Bowman, was worried to grab a quality forward at the trade deadline to pair up with Toews, he has since relaxed those thoughts.  There are still 20 games remaining for the Hawks before the playoffs start, but for now, they are starting to play their best hockey.

One thing is certain, any question of the Blackhawks being a playoff contender, has been answered.  They sit just 5 points behind Minnesota for tops in the Conference.  And with Toews and Kane, both heating up, that can only mean good things for Chicago and their fans.


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