With Martin Havlat sidelined by a shoulder injury since opening night, it's difficult to imagine where the Blackhawks would be without rookie Patrick Kane's 7 goals and team leading 22 points.
There will be nobody more pleased than Kane tonight when Havlat returns to the Hawks' lineup against the Tampa Bay Lightning at the United Center.
Kane has hit a bit of a wall lately, thanks in large part to the opposition sending out its top checking line against him and linemate Jonathan Toews. The return of Havlat to the first line with Robert Lang and Jason Williams can only help Hawks coach Denis Savard get more favorable matchups for the kids.
"It's good to have him back because it's going to take some pressure off me and John," said Kane, who had no goals and just 1 assist on the six-game road trip.
"It's going to help the young guys out a lot," said Patrick Sharp, who will be the new left wing for Toews and Kane tonight in place of Tuomo Ruutu. "We've had a lot of injuries and it was easy for teams to stick their top five players against them all night long.
"I'm sure it was tough for them, but with Havlat coming back, teams are going to have to pick their poison, I guess."
It's not that Ruutu has played poorly with Toews and Kane. The switch off the line speaks more to how well Sharp has played and Savard's desire to have what he feels are his six best forwards comprising the top two lines.
Ruutu will drop down to the third line with Jacob Dowell and Dustin Byfuglien, the defenseman turned winger.
"I don't think we've played that well the last few games," Ruutu said of his former line with Toews and Kane. "It's probably something that had to be done."
But the biggest story tonight is Havlat's return. The all-star winger has battled injuries for much of his first two seasons with the Hawks, although when he has played he has been one of the most dynamic scorers in the NHL.
Last season Havlat led the Hawks in scoring with 25 goals and 57 points despite appearing in only 56 games.
Havlat's right shoulder popped out late in the Hawks' 1-0 loss at Minnesota on opening night. Havlat saw five doctors, with the majority recommending rehab over surgery that would have sidelined him for the season.
"It feels pretty good, but I guess we'll find out now how it feels in a game," Havlat said Tuesday. "It's been great to watch the team win. I just want to come back and help."
The concern is Havlat's twice surgically repaired shoulder won't last the season. The Hawks will be holding their breath on every hit, but Havlat won't be.
"I have to do what I do best, and if I think about it then I'm not going to be able to play the way I can," Havlat said.
Savard is excited about his lineup, which now is only missing Rene Bourque and Kevyn Adams. Winger Jason Williams also returns tonight after missing four games with a groin strain.
Savard warned his team Tuesday not to fall into the trap of relaxing now that Havlat is back.
"Having people back in the lineup, sometimes you tend to relax," Savard said. "Marty's a great player and I expect him to come back and not miss a beat, but at the same time we just can't expect him to come back and take over this team the first couple games. We have to continue to work the way we have as a group and at the same time try to help him out."
While Havlat will get most of the attention for his comeback, a healthy Williams is another big key for the Hawks. Williams has 7 goals and 18 points in 19 games.
"He's been a key guy on the power play for us, and that's his strength," Savard said. "We should have two pretty strong units now with Havlat back."