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Blackhawks Mon Dec 01 2014

Blackhawks' Second Line Beginning to Gel

Chicago Blackhawks Coming into the annual Circus Trip a few weeks ago, the Hawks were looking every which way to score goals after outshooting its opponents by a wide margin. Lines were being scrambled and questions began to surface as to whether or not the offseason acquisition of Brad Richards, a Stanley Cup winner with the Tampa Bay Lightning and Conn Smythe winner back in the 2003-'04 season, was worth the $2 million for one year.

This year's Circus Trip looked far more daunting than last year's edition, mostly due to the strength of opposition. Six games, over 5,000 miles traveled and one Thanksgiving feast later, the Hawks and Brad Richards find themselves with 10 extra points in the standings thanks to great play on the road, which all began with the Hawks' second line.

After witnessing what having an old veteran like Michal Handzus can do to the likes of Patrick Kane in limiting scoring chances last season, it became priority number one for Stan Bowman to find a second-line center who can keep up with his talent level. Many believed Richards (34), who is three years younger than Handzus (37), also would play the role of grand piano on the back of Kane and further slow up the offense.

There also was the thought that Kris Versteeg, who was acquired by the Hawks last season, would be a liability to this team after a subpar performance in last season's Stanley Cup playoff run. To see that both of these skaters would support Kane made it tough to swallow, especially coming off the sting of last year's Game 7 demise.

This season, especially the last month or so, has witnessed a rebirth of sorts for Richards (he played well for a slow Rangers team last season in the Stanley Cup Final), and while it might not be time just yet to use the phrase "Jumping in the Fountain of Youth," it's safe to say Richards has at least dipped his toe into it.

In his last five games, Richards has four points, including two goals -- one an eventual game-winner -- against the Kings this past Saturday. Not to mention, Richards won 70 percent of draws against the Avs last Wednesday night, which included going four of six in the offensive zone and one for one in the defensive zone.

Versteeg has also been on a bit of a tear, and it started just before the Hawks hit the road. He's third on the team in scoring with seven goals and 11 assists for 18 points. He's 15th in the league in points scored per 60 minutes with 3.01, which also leads the team, not to mention he's 60th in the league in iCORSI per 60 with a robust 15.77.

Translation? Patrick Kane is now working with a line that is allowing him to basically score at will. Kane leads the teams with 23 points off of 10 goals and 13 assists. In his last five games, Kane has three goals and four assists, and is making Patrick Kane-like passes, which memorizes everyone watching in the stands, at home and on the ice.

The Hawks' very successful road trip has them back in the mix in the Central and West, as they currently sit with 31 points, 6th best in the conference. If the second line continues to have success as it recently has, the only question facing this team isn't how far it will continue to go, but where to play Patrick Sharp once he returns from injury.

 
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