BEVERLY HILLS – Michal Handzus entered his second stint with the Chicago Blackhawks a more seasoned veteran. He filled a need for the Blackhawks on two levels: another center, and one who could win faceoffs, a category where the team has struggled.
He’s done that and then some, as his goal in Game 2 against the Los Angeles Kings gave him a five-game point streak, the longest of his playoff career. But Handzus has supplied just as much off the ice as he has on it. His leadership is a quiet form of it, but it’s nonetheless been valuable.
Patrick Sharp has had three separate stints with Handzus now, the first being when they were both with Philadelphia. So with Sharp and Handzus sharing some second-line time with Patrick Kane, the rapport is there.
“He's a guy that can play in every situation. He has an offensive touch that he probably doesn't get enough credit for. He's good on faceoffs, he can play defensively and can play special teams,” Sharp said. “As far as our chemistry together, I feel like I know how he plays from watching him. I had a pretty good seat to watch him in Philadelphia for a couple years there. I know what he's all about. I feel like he can help keep us going.”
Coach Joel Quenneville said Handzus is carving a niche that wasn’t part of the original plan.
“When we first got him, we figured he'd give us a little more depth. All of a sudden he moved up the ladder where he's playing in that nice slot for us,” he said. “That’s a big line for us. You have to make sure he doesn't get too high, too low but he's very competitive. We've got to appreciate his positioning and his awareness.”
But it’s more than that. Sure, the Blackhawks have their leaders, most of whom have been together since before the 2010 Stanley Cup season. Handzus is new to this group of Blackhawks – his first stint with the team was in 2006-07 – but he’s not afraid to speak his mind if necessary.
“The thing he's added to our team more than anything is leadership,” Sharp said. “He says the right things at the right time.”
One case in point was early in the Blackhawks’ second-round series against the Detroit Red Wings. Andrew Shaw was letting emotions get the best of him through the first few games, and it led to foolish penalties and too much time in the box. Handzus had a talk with the young forward. Shaw has had just four penalty minutes in six games since then.
“He had a good chat with me. He [Handzus] said, ‘You’ve got to control your emotions and use it in the right way. Just have to be calm and play physical, go to the net and good things will come from it,’” said Shaw, who’s had three points in his last five games.
Quenneville said the leadership, even at low decibels, comes naturally for Handzus.
“He’s quiet, but at the same time I think he’s aware of everybody’s positioning around the team, what’s going on in the course of the game,” Quenneville said. “He has real good instincts for things like that.”
Handzus was expected to fill a void at center and win faceoffs. He’s done that. But how he’s worked his way up the lineup and been a quiet but effective leader, have just added to his value.
“He’s a guy who clearly wants to win at this stage in his career,” Sharp said. “He's been on a lot of good teams. You can tell he really has that passion to get it done this year.”