Chicago Blackhawks’ Game 5 Forward Lines Are Quite The Mix
Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville‘s usual tinkering with his forward lines wasn’t having much effect in the first four games of his team’s Stanley Cup Playoffs first-rounds series against the St. Louis Blues. So, instead of just a little tinkering ahead of a critical Game 5, Q went and blew it all up.
No line was safe at today’s morning practice as the Blackhawks prepare to attempt three consecutive victories, the only way they’ll get to keep playing past this current series. Let’s take a look, line by line, at what we were presented with this morning.
Okay, so this has a very familiar element to it. Whenever the Blackhawks get in a really sticky spot, Q will call on the combination of Toews and Kane to try and bail the club out. And you really can’t blame him for finally trying them together, as they’ve struggled miserably while separated in this series. They’ve combined for six assists, meaning none of their combined 31 shots have found twine. So maybe playing together will stir up some old successful memories.
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But then there’s Panik. He was given the initial assignment of replacing Marian Hossa on the top-line right wing in Game 4, and nothing much came of it. Q seems very taken with Panik after … scratching him for the first game of this series. And despite Panik having no points in three playoff games, he’s going to be the guy who, I can only assume, bumrushes Blues goaltender Brian Elliott to screen him or put home rebounds of Kane and Toews shots.
Still, this line doesn’t feel like it’ll last tonight. Toews and Kane will probably make it all the way through, but someone will be replacing Panik barring a massive early scoring binge from the Blackhawks.
Artemi Panarin-Artem Anisimov-Teuvo Teravainen
If there was a line that was going to break out tonight, you’d assume it’d be this one. Teuvo has struggled to get going with a few different partners in these playoffs, while Panarin and Anisimov account for a fourth of the Blackhawks’ goals. Teuvo is a playmaker, and he’ll have plenty of opportunities to make plays with a Kane-line guy in Panarin and a strong setup man/puck retriever in Anisimov.
The one issue with this line could be on the defensive end, as Panarin and Teuvo aren’t exactly defensive-zone experts and the Blues will be able to pick and choose the matchups tonight. But you can bet Q will give this group as many offensive-zone starts as possible in an effort to prevent that from being an issue.
Andrew Ladd–Marcus Kruger-Marian Hossa
Ladd and Hossa can’t produce between one of the game’s best centers in Toews, so they’ve now been turned into checking forwards around a checking center. I guess this make some sense, as Hossa’s offense has been nonexistent in this series, but his defense has still been sound. And Ladd’s done next to nothing offensively but has a big body he can use to win board battles and knock people off the puck. We all know what Kruger is out there to do.
Kruger is very good at turning the ice in the Blackhawks’ favor, no matter who he’s with.
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Perhaps he’ll be able to spring Ladd and Hossa on a 2-on-1 opportunity at some point. Regardless, this is a checking line with some offensive potency. Of course, we haven’t seen that potency from Ladd and Hossa in this series, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t still there.
Brandon Mashinter-Andrew Desjardins-Dale Weise
I feel badly for Desjardins, because he’s going to get next to no ice time tonight surrounded by these two. And frankly, Desjardins deserves more ice time. But we’ve got the six-minute man in Mashinter and an object of Q’s scorn in Weise. This means Tomas Fleischmann sits after relative ineffectiveness in Games 1-4, while Andrew Shaw is suspended for being an idiot.
This line … is a thing, basically. We won’t see it much, and you can bet even Ken Hitchcock realizes he’ll need to send Jaden Schwartz-Jori Lehtera-Vladimir Tarasenko screaming over the boards any time this Blackhawks trio hits the ice. I have no offensive or defensive expectations for this unit. I just hope it’s invisible and doesn’t give up any dangerous scoring chances to the Blues.
The defensive pairings have not yet been released, but I can’t imagine them being anything we’ll actually want to see.
Yeah, not anything we’ll want to see. But this is the forwards group the Blackhawks will fight for their playoffs lives with tonight. If the Blackhawks can come out flying, it could put a damper on the Blues. While the Blackhawks have seen some of their one-goal leads go by the wayside in later stages of previous games in this series, at no point have they come out fast and grabbed a multiple-goal edge. We’ll see if that can change tonight.