When it comes to Q’s Random Line Generator, the biggest surprise so far this season has been the lack of surprises. Q has been marching out his primary four line combinations in surprising frequency. Games have been played were 75 to over 80% of the forward lines were the standard ones we have come to expect.
Chicago Blackhawks Lines:
Sure, occasionally Marcus Kruger was getting some shifts in place of Daniel Carcillo on the second line. And Victor Stalberg subbed on occasion in the top 6 especially when there were injuries. However, from the start of this season the Chicago Blackhawks’ line combinations have been as stable as any time Q have been the coach. And in most games it has been the opposing coach switching up his lines to compete with the Hawks.
That is until the Columbus Blue Jacket game. In this one Q moved Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa up to the top line to play along side Patrick Sharp. Then Q moved Jonathan Toews and Andrew Brunette down to the Hawks second line. And Stalberg was moved up to play with them since Carcillo is serving his two game suspension. And if moving Toews to the second “even strength” line wasn’t strange enough, I think most fans would agree with Foley and Edzo’s dismay at seeing Toews on the second unit Power Play.
The need for a second line center to play with Hossa has been well documented. What was a surprise was finding out the Hawks were going to try to fill that void with Patrick Kane. When this subject was originally brought up, most posters in the blogworld were concerned about Kane’s defensive ability to play center in the NHL. And most of the discussion involved trying to figure out how Q was going to “protect” Kane in defensive situations. So it have been a huge surprise to me to find out that Q really hasn’t tried much if anything to protect Kane on the defensive end. In fact it has been Toews at 62.4% who has taken more of the offensive zone draws compared to Kane at 56.2%. So far the Hawks are around a 53% split of offensive to defensive zone draws. So Kane has been used pretty evenly between offensive and defensive situations.
Furthermore, in the previous 5 games Q really hasn’t tried to “protect” Kane in what opposing line he has matched up against. In fact Toews has gotten the slightly easier match-ups defensively. And the only real moves Q has made in pulling lines off the ice have involved Dave Bolland. Q tries to play Bolland’s line against either the first or second lines and will take him off the ice when he doesn’t get one of those match-ups. And even that is different from last season where Q made more of an effort to play Bolland strictly against the other team’s number one lines. So all in all Q has been much less “match-up happy” this year compared to last.
In the CBJ game, with Kane on the number one line, Q matched up the lines in a much more traditional manner. Kane was against the CBJ checking line, Toews against the other team’s number two line and Bolland against the top line. This is actually the second game in the last few where Kane centered Hossa and Sharp. In the second Colorado game, Q was in Random Generator mode when the Hawks were struggling. However, the CBJ game was the first one where Kane started the game centering both Sharp and Hossa.
One of the advantages of Kane and Hossa playing with Sharp is that it gets Sharp and Brunette both playing the LW position. The initial attempts at playing Brunette with Kane and Hossa were not successful from a plus minus perspective and Q has not gone back to that combination since. So it will be interesting to see if Q stays with Kane as the Hawks number one center between Sharp and Hossa.
And by the way, there have been a number of posters at various sites asking “why is John Scott playing instead of Rostislav Olesz?” Count me in the crowd who believes Olesz has had a relapse with his knee injury. If that is true, the Hawks are in a difficult situation, with Carcillo suspended and Olesz still injured. Scott may be getting more playing time than even Q would like.
On the defensemen side, Q has been fairly quiet in his line match-ups as well.
The Chicago Blackhawks Defensive pairs:
There has been all kinds of consternation concerning the pairing of Nick Leddy and Duncan Keith. At this point it has become pretty tiresome. Especially since it has been pretty successful from a plus minus point of view. The Leddy/Keith combination are a plus 4 for the year. And both players are even when playing with somebody else. Brent Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarsson as a pair are also plus two. And while Hjammer is a plus one without Seabrook, Seabrook is a combined -3 when not playing with Hjammer. And it really is that pair that will determine the success of Leddy and Keith playing together. As long as 74 can handle the defensive responsibilities of playing with Bolland, then Keith can play a more offensive role. And so far they have been.
Steve Montador and Sean O’Donell were a -1 and -2 in the Colorado back-to-back games. Outside of that they have been able to hold their own and are an even +/- playing together for the year. Also, in the CBJ game Q gave O’Donnell the night off and Sami Lepisto didn’t miss a beat.
One of the interesting aspects of the Leddy/Keith consternation concerns the Hawks checking line. Q is much more likely to match 82 with the Bolland line than he was willing to use Campbell in that role last year. Q has much more faith in that pair than most of the blogworld.
And Q is playing the Hawks 3rd d-pair much more often than he was willing to do last year. And the Hawks 3rd d-pair play in more situations than just against the other teams 4th line. This is probably the biggest difference between this year and last. And it is probably the biggest reason the Hawks are more dominant in 3rd period than last year. The Hawks are even in the first period, a minus 3 in the second period and a plus nine in the third. That is in sharp contrast to last year’s third period meltdowns.
The Hawks problems on the power play have been well documented. And Q has tried all kinds of combinations to rectify the situation. Andrew Brunette has played on both the first and second units. Usually switching with Marian Hossa. Though Kane has played some on the second unit. Marcus Kruger has gotten a couple of shots at the second unit. In the CBJ game, Q switched Toews with Bryan Bickell.
On the defenseman side, Seabrook and Leddy have anchored the Power Play, Keith by himself, Keith with Leddy, Keith with Hjammer and even Keith with Seabrook. They have tried last years lineup with Seabrook on the top unit. And even tried Steve Montador on the Power play. So far nothing has really clicked. And so far the biggest use of Q’s Random Line Generator has been on the Power Play.
As bad as the Power play has been the Penalty Kill has been outstanding. The Hawks have three shorthanded goals two of which were in the third period. The Hawks have returned Bolland to the first unit penalty kill, usually playing with Michael Frolik. That has left Toews and Hossa on the second unit. Kruger and Jamal Mayers are typically on the third unit PK.
For the defensemen on the Kill, Seabrook and Hjammer have been most often used on the first unit. Keith and O’Donell or sometimes Keith and Leddy have taken PK shifts. Q has really used Leddy in pretty much all situations. In key points of the game Keith and Sebrook have been re-united on the PK.
So far Q’s line match ups have been interesting in how boring they have been. Q is much less interested in getting his “specific” matchups on the ice. He is pulling his players off the ice for match-up reasons far less than he did last year. And so far Q has used Kane in far more situations this year than he was willing to use Sharp at center last year. And he has been rolling his d-pairs far more often this year than last. Willing to use just about anybody in every situation. It is still early and coaches tend to “try things” early in the year. It will be interesting to see what of these Q experimentation’s will stick later in the year.