Blackhawks’ Dominik Kubalik, Brandon Hagel make perfect sense as linemates
Hagel’s ability to win puck battles and move into the offensive zone and Kubalik’s deadly shooting and ability to pass when teams overcommit to his shot complement each other perfectly.
Great lines are hard to predict. Players excel together because of chemistry, communication, luck or some combination of those three.
Until that happens, however, it’s difficult to know which combinations will click and which won’t.
But that’s not the case with Dominik Kubalik and Brandon Hagel. From the moment they became regular Blackhawks linemates Feb. 15 in Detroit, their complementary skills made perfect sense together. And great results have followed.
‘‘They’ve been good, really good,’’ coach Jeremy Colliton said Saturday. ‘‘[They’re] driving play, getting us out of [the defensive] zone, getting in the offensive zone, creating chances, drawing penalties.’’
‘‘We build off of each other,’’ Hagel said.
Kubalik’s powerful, accurate shot and eagerness to use it make him a threat to score whenever he’s on the ice. He produces plenty of goals, but he also can pull defensive coverage away from others, something he has learned to take advantage of more this season with his improved passing.
Hagel’s relentless work ethic, breakaway speed and excellence in puck battles have stood out since he became a Hawks regular in January. His hands haven’t caught up yet, but he’s excellent at gaining possession and moving the puck into the offensive zone.
Together, the two cover all the bases.
‘‘As soon as we started playing together, we knew what to expect from each other,’’ Kubalik said. ‘‘I’m going to be the guy finding a spot to shoot it, and [Hagel] is the guy who will probably skate with it, win those battles. We’re just trying to do that, and I think it’s working. But for sure I have to help him more, just not to let him do all the work.’’
As opposing teams learn those tendencies, Kubalik and Hagel have proved they are able to play off of them, too.
On Saturday against the Panthers, Hagel dug the puck out of a scrum near the Hawks’ blue line. He raced ahead to create a two-on-one break with Kubalik, then passed the puck over near the offensive faceoff circle.
Everything up to that point was standard fare for two, so Panthers defenseman Gustav Forsling and goalie Sergei Bobrovsky bit hard on Kubalik shooting. But Kubalik passed it back instead, giving Hagel an easy tap-in goal.
‘‘He knows what I’m going to do on certain plays,’’ Hagel said afterward. ‘‘That was a great pass by him, to be honest. I didn’t even see it get through the guy. It just landed perfectly on my stick, and [I] just followed through and it went into the net.’’
Kubalik and Hagel have played 125 even-strength minutes together this season, and their results have been fantastic. They’ve outscored opponents 7-4 and generated a 55.6% scoring-chance ratio.
When not playing with the other, Hagel has been outscored 10-5 and has a 46.7% scoring-chance ratio and Kubalik has an even 8-8 goals total and a 48.3% scoring-chance ratio. Clearly, their union improves their results substantially.
Now the Hawks need to find a permanent center solution between them. Defensive specialist David Kampf has been the primary guy this season, but his lack of scoring doesn’t make him an ideal long-term fit.
If Jonathan Toews eventually returns to the team, his pre-existing chemistry with Kubalik might make him a logical choice. The Hawks also might consider adding a center at the trade deadline.
That’s not of too much concern right now, however. Kubalik and Hagel seem to be clicking perfectly well as it is.
‘‘Since we started playing together, I felt like [he] might be the right guy to play with,’’ Kubalik said. ‘‘We’re pretty good friends off the ice, too, and that makes it better on the ice. I’m enjoying the play right now.’’