Analysis

Chicago Blackhawks’ Second Line Split-Up: Pros And Cons

By Mario Tirabassi
Dec 17, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks left wing Artemi Panarin (72) celebrates with teammates center Artem Anisimov (15) and right wing Patrick Kane (88) after scoring against the Edmonton Oilers during the third period at United Center. The Blackhawks won 4-0. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 17, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks left wing Artemi Panarin (72) celebrates with teammates center Artem Anisimov (15) and right wing Patrick Kane (88) after scoring against the Edmonton Oilers during the third period at United Center. The Blackhawks won 4-0. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports /
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The Chicago Blackhawks are shaking things up for their second regular-season game, namely by breaking up the vaunted second line

The Chicago Blackhawks lost their first game of the 2016-17 NHL season to the St. Louis Blues on Wednesday night. You know what that means. Alert your loved ones, grab two of every animal and head for the hills because the end is nigh!

That may be exaggerating a little bit, but it took one loss for coach Joel Quenneville to start up the line blender. Here is what it looks like ahead of toight’s game against the Nashville Predators:

Marian Hossa falls from top-line right wing to third-line right wing.

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Tyler Motte jumps from third-line left wing to second-line left wing.

Richard Panik flips from left wing to right wing on the top line.

Artemi Panarin jumps from second-line left wing to top-line left wing.

Ryan Hartman flips from right wing to left wing on the third line.

(insert blender noise here)

There are a lot of ideas that go into all these kinds of moves. The biggest probably centers around the splitting of the second-line trio of Panarin, Artem Anisimov and Patrick Kane. So, let’s delve into what is good and bad about the mixing of lines.

Pros for the Blackhawks’ line changes

New blood, new opportunities

The big thing this year for the Blackhawks is the new faces that are making their ways into the regular lineup. (Personal story: My dad texted me on Wednesday night: ‘Who are these guys?’ And he’s a huge Blackhawks fan. That says something.)

Mixing up the lines gives the new faces a chance to fit into different roles that may already be taken by veteran Blackhawks. That doesn’t mean the vets can’t still play successfully in their roles, it just means they could be just as successful in a different role, and the young prospects can be just as successful filling in. This season requires a learning curve, and why not give the kids a chance to succeed early on?

Not the same old song and dance

The Blackhawks can run out their usual lines, and teams that had trouble with the Blackhawks, mainly their second line, won’t have issues this season because they would know how to defend against them.

By mixing the lines, it makes it more difficult for the opposition to game plan against Chicago. While Anisimov centering Kane and Panarin was money last season, it no longer surprises anyone.

Now put a goal scorer like Panarin on the wing of Jonathan Toews, and a defensive-minded winger like Motte with Kane and Panarin can go more for the net, as can Panarin. The defensive responsibilities no longer just fall to Anisimov; they are his and Motte’s, which makes it a more wide open game for Kane.

Also, placing Hossa on the third line allows him to be more effective as a defensive forward, with fewer minutes so he can be fresher throughout the season. It’s better to have third-line Hossa for 70-80 games than top-line Hossa for 50-60 games.

Check it out: Blackhawks Living In New Look Central Division

Cons

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it

What is really wrong with keeping Kane, Panarin and Anisimov together? It’s one game and they didn’t light it up, so you blow it all up? No. The second line was the best, most reliable line the Blackhawks had last year.

On a team that has big questions as to where the consistent offense is going to come from, why break up the line that gave you the most offense? Adding new players into the lineup should not cause the line that was the most consistent last season to be affected after just one game.

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Chemistry doesn’t happen overnight

Being able to play fluently with your linemates is a huge factor in the game of hockey. If you don’t gel with the guys on your left and right, it’s hard for good things to happen. Pure skill will only get a team so far.

When a player gets used to knowing who they are playing with — knowing their style of play, feeling confident in where they will be on the ice and trusting their abilities — it’s a beautiful thing.

One of the biggest keys to the Soviet dominance of hockey in the 1960’s, ’70s and ’80s was due to the players playing with each other all the time. Throwing together All-Star teams to face them didn’t work because the individual players weren’t able to gel like the Soviets had.

Yes, there is a learning curve for the Chicago Blackhawks this season. Yes, the young players need time to reach their potentials for the 2016-17 season. But, throwing them into the lineup without the consideration of who they are playing with and who they are familiar with would be a mistake.

Motte, Hartman, Vince Hinostroza and Nick Schmaltz have all played together in Rockford and in this offseason. They are familiar with each other. Toews, Kane, Panarin, Panik, etc. have only been playing with the new blood for a few weeks in training camp. There needs to be more time for chemistry to develop over the season before the lineups are mish-mashed together.

Next: ’Hawks Meet Big Roadblock In Predators

What the latest line changes mean

Don’t be surprised if the lineup eventually reverts to the opening night lineup. Don’t be surprised if you see every player on the Blackhawks play one game with every one of his teammates this season. This is the world of Quenneville, and it will just keep spinning new lineups every single day.

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