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Chicago Blackhawks: Why The Line Blender Might Not Be All Bad

By Gail Kauchak
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Nov 16, 2014; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews (right) is congratulated for scoring by left wing Brandon Saad (center) and defenseman Johnny Oduya (left) during the third period against the Dallas Stars at the United Center. Chicago won 6-2. Mandatory Credit: Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

It seems to be the general consensus among Blackhawks fans that head coach Joel Quenneville is much too quick to change up the lines, and that this is detrimental to the team.  I would like to take an alternative viewpoint, and discuss some reasons why the line blender may in some ways be a good thing.  Let’s get started.

The most obvious reason to be making line changes is that players are always getting hurt.  When this happens, adjustments have to be made.  A player might get bumped up a line, and have a chance to step up and prove himself.  For example, with Patrick Sharp being out, Brandon Saad most recently played on the first line during the Dallas Stars game, alongside Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa.  This line played very well together, and Saad even earned a goal off a neat feed from Toews.  But when Sharpie returns, adjustments will again be made.  This is a necessary evil in hockey.

Changing the lines gives the coaching staff the ability to send messages to certain players.  Brad Richards had a slow start to his year.  He had to play on the third and fourth line before he was finally rewarded with centering the second line (and Patrick Kane) on Sunday night.  This line looked very strong, and produced a combined 2 goals and 6 assists.  I’m guessing Richards will be pretty motivated to continue within this trio, and it gives him that extra incentive going forward to produce and keep his position.

This is only one example of how the coaches can try to get an extra jump out of their players.  Andrew Shaw was recently shuffled back to the third line, as his production has been lacking.  Brent Seabrook spent time on the third defensive pairing after some sloppy play.  Remember when Brandon Saad was a healthy scratch last year during the playoffs?

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Changing up partners keeps players on their toes.  When teammates always play together, they develop a certain level of comfort with each other.  While this might not be such a bad thing, it could also promote a sense of ease, or relaxation.  But if you’re not as used to a fellow player, you are constantly alert to the play and the different ways it might unfold.  You have a propensity for more sharpness and more focus.

It causes headaches for the opposition’s coaches.  If you’re a coach getting ready to play the Chicago Blackhawks, I’m sure it’s not always easy to prepare if you’re not sure of the lines.  Will Toews and Kane be playing together or separately?  Will Marian Hossa really be on the third line?  Well, with Joel Quenneville, you never know.

Frequently changing lines develops team- wide chemistry.  Yes, you read that right.  They ARE developing chemistry, not just with their main line mates, but with everyone on the team.  We have to remember, this is preparation for the long haul, not just the here and now.   When the playoffs role around, the players should be ready to change things up to provide the best match ups within the series.

Let’s go back to Brandon Saad.  He’s spent time on the first, second, and third lines.  I think Ben Smith has been on every line.   But yet these two have been solid no matter where you put them.  They’re not leaning on certain line mates; they’re doing what they do best and working with whomever they happen to be on the ice with.  They have developed great chemistry with… well, pretty much everybody.  Isn’t that the point?

Now don’t get me wrong.  I understand a certain amount of consistency, and maybe Coach Q has a tendency to jump the gun a little bit.  I’m with everyone else in hoping that Saad/Toews/Hossa and Versteeg/Richards/Kane all get to stay together for a while.  But these lines also wouldn’t have been created without a little experimentation and trial and error.   If players have the right attitude, the whole team should be able to benefit from that.

What do you think Blackhawks fans?  Feel free to leave your comments in the section below.

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