The Chicago Blackhawks welcome Niklas Hjalmarsson back to the lineup Friday night as they visit the Nashville Predators. It should be a rough matchup on the road at Bridgestone Arena, but with the return of Hjalmarsson, there’s reason to expect a much better showing than the 5-2 loss to the Blues in the season opener.
Hjalmarsson returns to the ice after missing Wednesday’s game due to a suspension by NHL Player Safety for a preseason hit on Ty Rattie. He’s expected to slide into Trevor van Riemsdyk’s spot in the lineup next to Duncan Keith, which should do wonders for the Hawks coming off a poor performance.
Van Riemsdyk became the early target for Hawks fans this season after following up a poor preseason with a downright brutal effort against St. Louis. Chicago got outshot, 17-5, at 5-on-5 with van Riemsdyk on the ice, which just shouldn’t happen when your primary partner is one of the best blue liners in the game. He also had a pair of costly penalties in just 16 minutes of ice time.
TVR might be fine as a sixth or seventh defensemen, but once again we saw that he’s not equipped to take on challenging assignments with Keith.
Luckily his spot goes to Hjalmarsson now because Joel Quenneville might be batty, but not nearly batty enough to bench Gustav Forsling or Michal Kempny instead of TVR. So Hjalmarsson slides right next to Keith in the lineup, with Forsling-Brian Campbell and Kempny-Brent Seabrook as the other two pairings. Much, much better.
Other changes are also coming to the forwards:
#Blackhawks lines:— Mark Lazerus (@MarkLazerus) October 14, 2016
I don’t know about sticking with the Hinostroza-Schmaltz-Tootoo line after they put up a zero percent Corsi against St. Louis, but I’ve been partial to giving Panarin another shot with Toews for a while. Marian Hossa is down with Marcus Kruger, too, so clearly Q wasn’t kidding around when he suggested breaking up Toews and Hossa might happen.
Player to watch for: Artemi Panarin
The Blackhawks desperately need to find a high-level winger to play next to Toews. The Panik-Toews-Hossa line was once again underwhelming against St. Louis, so it’s not surprising that the team is giving Panarin another shot next to the captain. The two didn’t thrive in brief stints together last season, but it was only 141 minutes.
With a tough matchup against a speedy Nashville defense led by PK Subban and Roman Josi, the Hawks’ offense should have its hands full. But if Panarin and Toews can get something going in this game, against this opponent, it could be something to build on going forward.
We know that Patrick Kane can carry an offensive-minded line, and there’s a decent chance Tyler Motte is up to the task of supporting that effort. But on the first line, Toews needs help, and while Panarin isn’t a perfect fit given his dashing, offensive-minded game, he’s the best non-Kane winger they got. It’s time to see if splitting them up can yield two good scoring lines instead of one.
How to watch Blackhawks vs. Predators
Location: Bridgestone Arena, Nashville
Time: 7 p.m. CT
TV: NBCSN, CSN Chicago
Live stream: NBC Sports