Chicago Blackhawks Vs Columbus Blue Jackets 1St-Period. Blackhawks No.19 Jonathan Toews passes the puck through the goal crease while Blackhawks No.39 Jimmy Hayes looks for the tip in. Hayes did not score on the play. January 10 , 2012 I Scott Stewart~Sun-Times
Updated: February 12, 2012 8:20AM
As usual, center Dave Bolland might just be the key to everything.
When star forward Patrick Sharp was in the lineup, it was Bolland’s erratic and unproductive first half that led to concerns about the Blackhawks’ lack of offensive depth up front.
With Sharp out with a fractured wrist, it’s clear the onus is on Bolland to raise his game. Coach Joel Quenneville kept him on the second line with winger Marian Hossa
after using him most of the season to handle checking assignments.
For Bolland — a player well-known for his defensive success and antics in the playoffs against opponents’ best players — this is his chance to really show his worth. He may be a proven postseason performer, but some success in the regular season can go a long way for the slumping Hawks.
Against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday at the United Center, Bolland scored a short-handed goal with a nice move in close on goalie Curtis Sanford after a pass from Hossa in the second period. He later notched an assist on Viktor Stalberg’s empty-net goal in the third period.
‘‘It would be nice to have some big numbers,’’ Bolland said. ‘‘But things happen over the course of the year that whichever way you can help your team, if it’s just little plays, playing the defensive zone or doing whatever, anything to help the team win and to get back to that Stanley Cup finals is the main thing.’’
For Bolland, that usually means handling matchups and checking top players. But it’s offense that’s needed from him now, and that was even before Sharp got injured.
“It’s always fun playing with Hossa or on the second-line role,” Bolland said. ‘‘Whatever role Q gives us in the course of a season, I think you take it and you play with it.’’
The puzzling thing is that coach Joel Quenneville — despite the Hawks’ lack of natural centers — rarely has used Bolland in a top-six role, even when the team is struggling to score.
Bolland is a top checking center in the game because he possesses more offensive skills than most in that role. In 2008-09, Bolland showed how good he can be when matched with an offensive-minded player in Martin Havlat. There’s no reason to think he can’t have the same type of impact playing with Hossa for an extended period.
‘‘Whether Bolly has that checking assignment or not, I think that line needs to be more consistent and more effective at both ends of the rink,” Quenneville said.
When Bolland centers the third line, the Hawks are a deeper, more balanced team, as seen in his impact against the Vancouver Canucks in the playoffs last season. But the Hawks don’t have enough players consistently going this year, especially with rookie center Marcus Kruger out with a concussion, to have that luxury with Bolland, who has been hampered by injuries throughout his career.
Bolland’s checking line has struggled this season. He and his usual linemates of Bryan Bickell and Michael Frolik are all minus players who need to do more offensively.
‘‘It’s always tough seeing minuses,’’ Bolland said. ‘‘It does suck. You wish you could be a plus, but your season always has twists and turns, and those are things you have to deal with.
‘‘For me, it’s just going out and working hard every night and trying to get back to that plus.’’