Second line struggling at even-strength

February, 6, 2011
2/06/11
7:40
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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CALGARY, Alberta -- Two of the three are having career years, but yet there is something left to be desired from the Chicago Blackhawks second line of Tomas Kopecky, Patrick Sharp, and Marian Hossa.

All three players have earned their points on the power play, but have they done enough during five-on-five? The scoring chances have been there, but the results haven’t been.

Patrick Sharp
Jamie Sabau/NHLI/Getty ImagesPatrick Sharp has a team-high 26 goals, but a team-low -13 plus/minus.
“We know we need to get productive five-on-five, but I feel like we’re getting our chances,” Hossa said after practice Sunday in Calgary. “If we can get an ugly one, maybe things will start falling.”

Hossa and Sharp combined for 13 shots on Friday against Vancouver, but some of those came via the power play. Both Hossa and Kopecky had near empty-net chances, as well, but couldn’t convert.

“I think we were way much better than [Tuesday’s] game in Columbus,” Kopecky said. “We had so many chances Friday night, we just didn’t bury them. It’s kind of frustrating, but you can’t let it get into your head. We’re staying patient and we know we’re going to score some goals. We just have to be really good defensively and the goals will come.”

If general manager Stan Bowman can find a centerman before the Feb. 28 trade deadline, which he is most assuredly looking for, it will free up Sharp to move back to wing -- where he plays his best hockey. Sharp is a team-worst minus-13, including minus-7 over his last four games.

“I really don’t care about it to be honest with you,” Sharp said. “I know I’m a reliable player in all zones. There’s been times I’ve led the team in plus/minus. To me that stat is telling in some areas, but I’m not really bothered by it. I’m more concerned with helping the team win and that’s the main thing.”

In Sharp’s defense, he’s been on the ice for no less than eight empty-net goals given up by the Hawks, which count against his plus/minus. The facts still tell a story, though. He and linemate Kopecky have the worst two plus/minus numbers on the team. Last year, Sharp scored a majority of his goals five-on-five and just four on the power play. It’s one reason why his plus/minus was a plus-24.

So take away its power-play numbers this year and the line’s production five-on-five isn’t very gaudy. Sharp has 15 goals and 10 assists. Hossa has nine goals and 11 helpers while Kopecky has seven goals and 13 assists. Decent, but not good enough if they’re getting scored upon.

“Last game was a step in the right direction,” Sharp said. “We were skating and coming up with some pucks and had far more scoring chances than against Columbus. It would have been nice to get a couple.”

In the bigger picture, the line probably shouldn’t be together. Sharp isn’t a true centerman -- which is exactly what Hossa needs -- and Kopecky might not be a true top-six forward. If Sharp is to go back to being a dangerous sniper, he’ll do it at wing.

One option is to move Dave Bolland back up to No. 2 center, which would solve those two problems. Bolland’s offensive game is coming around and he’s a smart enough player to feed Hossa the puck where he needs it. Coach Joel Quenneville has been reluctant to do that, most likely because the Hawks don’t have a shutdown guy on defense to take Bolland’s place. So Bowman could be looking for a second or third line center.

But for now, they’re together and maybe Friday’s performance was a step in the right direction.

“Maybe that’s a sign they are ready to cash in,” Quenneville said.

All three are hopeful their coach’s assertion is correct.

Jesse Rogers | email

Chicago Cubs beat reporter
Jesse joined ESPN Chicago in September 2009 and covers the Chicago Cubs for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN Radio 1000.

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