Blackhawks’ bottom-6 forwards inexplicably producing more offense than their top 6
Coach Jeremy Colliton seemingly can’t win with his line combinations right now.
The Blackhawks’ forward corps is in a strange spot.
The supposed first- and second-line stars are struggling, but the supposed third- and fourth-line grinders and depth contributors are excelling.
It’s an odd and not-easily-solved predicament for a team that went through the offseason acting as though its depth, not its top-end talent, was the area most in need of improvement.
After the loss Sunday to the Capitals — the Hawks’ fourth defeat in six games — coach Jeremy Colliton was asked why Dominik Kubalik, who just had recorded a whopping 10 shots on goal, wasn’t getting more ice time.
‘‘I think you can say that for a lot of guys,’’ Colliton said. ‘‘[Alex] Nylander has been excellent. Kubalik’s been excellent. [Ryan] Carpenter [too]. Up and down. Now [Kirby] Dach steps in and is really good. That is really good for our team — competition — and there’s nothing wrong with everyone probably deserving a little bit more because that means we have depth and we’re going to be hard to play against.
‘‘Over time, it’s going to add up to some pretty good performances. Sometimes it’s easier to be really good if you just play a little bit less than maybe you can handle.’’
On one hand, Colliton is correct. The dominance of the Kubalik-David Kampf-Brandon Saad line has been much-discussed. The new fourth line of Nylander, Carpenter and Drake Caggiula — created when Dach’s insertion into the lineup Sunday bumped Caggiula down — also skated circles around the Caps.
So, yes, practically every player in that bottom six deserves more ice time, based on performance.
On the other hand, practically every player in the top six deserves less ice time, based on performance.
Jonathan Toews has yet to record a five-on-five point this season. Andrew Shaw would be in the same boat if the home opener was excluded. Alex DeBrincat, coming off a 41-goal eruption last season, hasn’t scored at even strength. Dylan Strome has had an unremarkable start, and Dach was the only Hawks forward without a shot on goal in his debut. Only Patrick Kane has been productive.
In fact, the bottom six have been outright better than the top six in every category: goals, assists, points, shots, shots on goal, scoring chances and shot accuracy.
And not by minuscule margins, either. For example, the third and fourth lines have averaged 5.3 points and 25.3 scoring chances per 60 minutes at five-on-five; the first and second lines have averaged 4.7 points and 19.5 scoring chances.
But Colliton can’t feasibly solve that by flipping his depth chart. Despite their polar-opposite Octobers, no one reasonably can argue Carpenter should play 20 minutes and Toews 10 minutes Tuesday against the Golden Knights.
Elevating the bottom-six forwards with top-six attributes among their skills — Kubalik, Saad and Nylander are the obvious candidates — jumps out as the most obvious solution.
That, however, would split the trios that are clicking right now and potentially destroy the little chemistry the Hawks have developed to date.
The problem will require nuanced tinkering to fix. And it’s not going to be easy to execute.