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Chicago Blackhawks Try Out Some New Lines

By Colin Likas
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I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville is a mad scientist.

The man loves to mix and match players on his forward lines, and he usually winds up finding four trios that fit his plan and the style of a game he wants to see. What exactly the lines at today’s morning practice mean, then, is up for debate.

Courtesy Chicago Sun-Times writer Mark Lazerus, Q treated us to these lines today:

The first thing fans might notice is Teuvo Teravainen playing at a wing once again. Q has previously said he wants to give Teuvo more time at center, and that’s primarily where we’ve seen him through training camp and preseason play. But it appears Q would prefer to have a more skilled playmaker alongside Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa after Andrew Shaw got a crack at the spot during the last preseason game against Dallas.

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Q confirmed after practice that today’s top line isn’t a one-time experiment, either:

Rolling down the lines, the second threesome is still the same from the last preseason game. Artemi Panarin, Artem Anisimov and Patrick Kane looked solid as a unit against the Stars, and they’ll start the regular season together.

The third line … yikes. For the last (not really) time, Shaw is not a natural center. He plays better at wing. Teuvo would be a better fit at bottom-six center than Shaw. Hell, Marko Dano might fit the bill better. A healthy Phillip Danault certainly would. But here we are again, seeing Q take Shaw from the wing, where he plays so much better and looks so much more comfortable, and throw him in between two random guys.

In this case, those two random guys make for quite possibly the ugliest third line in recent memory. Here’s all you need to know:

I know that’s Lazerus’ opinion, but I think he’s entirely right. What is that third line? You could call it a grinder line, but then what’s the fourth line for? Super grinding? Q is really making it easy for the opponent to key in on his top two lines with this configuration. He’s also lessening the likelihood of bottom-six scoring, something crucial for a team to win games.

The third line as it was seen in today’s practice carriers a winger shoved into the center role, a second winger who may still be suffering the symptoms of vertigo (Bryan Bickell) and a role player who impressed primarily against AHL talent in training camp (Kyle Baun). If the opposition gets its top line out against this trio, the possession numbers might make Blackhawks fans tear their eyes out.

I did say at the top that Q usually finds ways to make things like this work. And maybe he strikes gold with this third line. But I just don’t see it. Of course, this configuration could go away after one game, but it could also stick around and cost the Blackhawks wins they will probably need in a tight Central Division.

The fourth line is what you’d probably expect with Shaw not on it. Garbutt fills the Shaw role on that line just fine. Baun could also moonlight here if today’s third line is broken up. I’m not sure where today’s lines leave Viktor Tikhonov, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see him end up on that third line if things go south with the current setup.

As a side note, Q mentioned after practice that defenseman Michal Rozsival will start the season on injured-reserve (uncertain if that means long-term injured-reserve), but he still wants to roll with a roster of 22, one less than the maximum. It’ll be interesting to see how long he sticks with that formula.

Next: 5 Final Thoughts From Blackhawks Preseason Play

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