CHICAGO – Eight rookies have played for the Chicago Blackhawks this season, but two in particular are starting to make the team's coaches and front office think hard about upcoming roster moves.
Scrappy 5-foot-10 forward Andrew Shaw and towering 6-foot-6, 221-pound Jimmy Hayes have been up from the minors for less than two weeks, but the duo has impressed in short order, as the Minnesota Wild found out on Thursday night at the United Center during a 5-2 Chicago victory.
Shaw and Hayes both scored goals, while Hayes added an assist in a three-goal second period for the Hawks (26-13-5) – who won their second straight game without injured forward Patrick Sharp.
"We have a number of problems," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said, referring to the pending return of injured rookie center Marcus Kruger (concussion) from an eight-game absence, which would require somebody to be sent to the minors. "We've got roster problems. Krugs looks like he could be back playing on the weekend, so we'll have to look at some options here – but we're right at the (maximum) number."
To be clear, these are the good kind of problems to have, thanks to some impressive efforts by Hayes and Shaw during their brief NHL stints. Along with the likes of Viktor Stalberg and Dave Bolland – who also both scored in the big second period – the Hawks' rookies are helping their team get past a couple of injured players aside from Sharp, whose hand injury might keep the talented top-six forward on the shelf for three more weeks.
"The young guys coming up give us some energy and I think we've got some great young kids coming up here in our system," said Bolland, who set up Hayes' goal and added a second marker for himself into an empty net in the third for a three-point night. "They do give us a lift. They want a job and they're going to work hard for it. I think it's great by them and we're doing a great job with how our lines are going right now and what we're doing."
Hawks goalie Ray Emery (21 saves) picked up the win, while Stalberg's goal was his fourth in two games and fifth game-winner of the season. It was also his career-high 13th goal of the season.
Quenneville has to be happy with the balanced offense the past two games, not to mention the youngsters proving the term "organizational depth" isn't just a future-oriented description. They've definitely given this team a lift of late and plan to keep the energy up as long as they're around.
"It's just something we've got to keep doing," Hayes said of himself, Shaw and fellow rookie Ben Smith. "I'm not sure we're the solution. We've just got to bring energy and keep playing hard. That's what you want to do, is play in this League and I'm just going to keep showing up."
"It's a great league to play in and you obviously want to stick here, so you just keep working and hopefully good things happen," he said. "I want to be here as long as possible."
That could be an extended stay if he keeps playing like he did against the Wild. Led by Shaw's second career goal midway through the first, the Hawks roared back from a 1-0 deficit with four unanswered goals after Devin Setoguchi gave the Wild its only lead just 6:28 into the game off a rebound.
Shaw wristed a shot from the top of the left circle past Josh Harding (17 saves) to knot it 1-1, and the Hawks then proceeded to open it up in the second.
Hayes parked his big frame in the low slot on a power play and snapped a perfect feed from behind the net by Bolland into the right side of the net at 8:53 for his third career goal in just seven games. Just 23 seconds later, Stalberg scored to make it 3-1 Blackhawks – with helpers going to Chicago captain Jonathan Toews and Steve Montador.
About seven minutes later, Bolland gave the Hawks their second power-play goal of the evening by backhanding a rebound of Montador's shot past Harding from the low slot – his 11th goal of the season and second in as many games. Hayes picked up a secondary assist on that one and the big night for the rookies continued.
"It was an unbelievable pass and he's a highly-skilled player," Hayes said of Bolland's feed on his goal. "He made a great play and I just buried it for him."
The only downside came on Minnesota's second goal, which was scored by Kyle Brodziak at 8:56 of the third off a rebound to make it 4-2. Shaw was on the ice and lost his defensive coverage assignment, but it wasn't enough of a mistake to spoil an otherwise impressive performance from the young Hawks.
As for Minnesota (22-16-6), what started out great quickly went sour.
Wild coach Mike Yeo said after the morning skate that he anticipated a big effort from Setoguchi – whom he scratched on Tuesday, reportedly for missing a team meeting earlier in the day. It looked like Yeo's hunch was going to be prophetic when Setoguchi beat the Hawks to a loose rebound and scored his ninth goal to give his team an early lead.
However, things got ugly in a hurry afterward.
"A step back from last game, that's for sure," Yeo said, referring to a 5-4 shootout win over San Jose on Tuesday. "Not happy with that one. It was there for the first seven minutes, and then we started to turn pucks over like crazy. Everything that we needed to do in this game, to win this game, we didn't do. That's what happens if you're not playing the right way. We have to play the right way and we have to have everybody. We didn't even come close to playing the right way, and we didn't come close to having everybody."