Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville often gets upset behind the bench during games, but it’s rare to see him let loose at a morning skate, as he did today
The Chicago Blackhawks, to put it plainly, have not looked good of late. They’ve lost three straight games and been anywhere from slightly to summarily outplayed in all three. Even some of the team’s wins this season, such as those against Nashville, Montreal and Edmonton, have been particularly underwhelming.
The team’s 5-5-2 start to the 2017-18 season has some, including Blackhawk Up’s Aaron Goldschmidt, wondering if coach Joel Quenneville is getting tuned out in the locker room these days.
Well, apparently it’s not just the locker room we should be worried about Q losing his voice in. According to the Chicago Sun-Times’ Mark Lazerus, Q lit into his players during today’s morning skate and made them skate laps after practice.
This is certainly a newsworthy event, as you don’t often see professional coaches lay into their players during a practice. The most memorable recent instance I can recall is Mike Yeo losing his lid during a 2015 Minnesota Wild practice.
Here was Q’s explanation for his outburst and decision to skate the players, like Herb Brooks did back in the day with Team USA:
Well, that’s fair. The Blackhawks haven’t looked terribly intense in their games, so to see it carrying over in practice has to be disturbing for Quenneville. He felt it was time to light a fire under his guys, even if it was just 12 games into the season.
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What does it mean?
I don’t know how hot Quenneville’s seat is with the Blackhawks. I know he has quite a long leash in this city as a result of his past success, so general manager Stan Bowman isn’t going to jump to any rash decisions.
But seeing something like this, which Q rarely does, has to make you think he’s feeling a bit of pressure. He needs his guys to perform better, and he’s struggling to find ways to get that done. Thus, a rare in-practice outburst.
Bowman overhauled the roster this offseason, and while I think he didn’t do quite the job he needed to, he’s not going to be the first guy fired if the Blackhawks fail this year. That’ll be Coach Q.
Q’s actions today point to a man who feels his team is just going through the motions despite losing three straight games in unimpressive fashion. They’re of a man who seems concerned this three-game skid could become something a lot worse.
Do I think Q believes he has lost his locker room? Not necessarily. But you can’t always just get messages across by benching Michal Kempny and Connor Murphy. This is a veteran-laden team, and so it’s only natural that some of these guys might tune out Q at times. He was right to get in their faces and remind them who the coach is.
What will it mean for the Blackhawks’ next contest, Wednesday against Philadelphia? Hopefully a lot. The Flyers are by no means a great team, and the Blackhawks should be able to pick up two home points. If they bring more intensity than they have in their last few games, and than they apparently did in Tuesday’s morning skate, that should be much more achievable.
New lines and pairings … again
Moving on from Q’s reaction to today’s practice, we can see he also debuted yet another set of new forward lines and defensive pairings, after last week’s groups didn’t fare so well.
On the first and second lines
Those are some interesting lines, and I don’t necessarily mean that in a bad way. Granted, I said last week I thought the lines the Blackhawks rolled out would work, and that proved very wrong. But let’s try again.
Da Windy City
I was hopeful Alex DeBrincat would get another shot at the top line, and thankfully he’s on his correct side this time. DeBrincat adds the speed and playmaking ability to this line that moving Brandon Saad takes away.
Hopefully, giving DeBrincat this push will give him a boost of confidence and also open up his game. Playing alongside solid finishers like Toews and Panik — the former being a decent playmaker himself and the latter being a fine space creator — should give DeBrincat more of what he needs from his linemates right now.
I still think DeBrincat with Nick Schmaltz and Patrick Kane would be an experiment worth trying. But I have to say, that second line is not unattractive. Frankly, I don’t know how you shut down that second line, especially when the Blackhawks have last change.
Saad has been a man possessed more often than not, and Schmaltz looks to be tapping into his potential playing alongside Kane. As for Kane … he’s Patrick Kane. The hope is getting him with two great playmaking linemates gets Kane’s motivation back where it needs to be.
On the third and fourth lines
Now, the other two lines are a little more interesting in the other direction. I’m not necessarily sure of their intent, but I truly see a pair of checking lines in addition to a pair of scoring lines.
Yeah, Patrick Sharp and Ryan Hartman can score some goals. And yeah, Artem Anisimov has been scoring of late (though not entirely at 5-on-5). But these are just six guys who mostly don’t move well and who are mostly on the big side.
I guess the plan is to keep letting that fourth line fly at opponents in the offensive zone, but that’s led to some ugly puck possession. I feel like Q wants scoring from that third line, but I don’t know that he’ll get it. There’s not much speed, playmaking ability or puck-possessing ability on that line.
We’ll see what happens. I think Q can get away with using these two bottom-six lines at home, but they might get absolutely roasted on the road. I think we’re getting to a point where the Blackhawks need to consider calling up someone like Vinnie Hinostroza, or even Tomas Jurco, both of whom have played well at Rockford.
On the defense
The only reason Gustav Forsling isn’t on the pairings is due to an injury he suffered Saturday against Colorado. And while I think he shouldn’t be playing because he just hasn’t been good, it does give the Blackhawks an opportunity to get creative with the defense.
And creative they’ve gotten, starting with Duncan Keith teaming with Cody Franson. This is an interesting pairing, as both guys like to do the quarterback thing from the blue line. I wouldn’t say straight defense is either guy’s strong suit. So who covers for whom when one guy pushes up?
It should be a sound enough pairing, and it’s certainly better than saddling Keith with Brent Seabrook. Seabs, meanwhile, is getting paired with an off-side Jan Rutta. That shows a lot of confidence going from Q to Rutta.
It’s a bit of a crazy, throw-things-at-the-wall type of maneuver from Q, as Seabs is in little shape to cover if Rutta struggles on his off side. It’s a pairing that could go wrong very quickly. But it’s also one that, if Rutta adapts well to playing his off side, could shield Seabrook from the constant destruction we’ve seen in his play.
The third pairing, somehow, is still The Doghouse Bros. tandem of Kempny and Murphy. Frankly, I’m good with it. The two just have to play to their potential … or to Q’s potential … or both.
The Blackhawks really need to grab some points in these upcoming games. They have a pretty soft schedule over the next 11 days in the form of two games against the Flyers and one apiece against Minnesota, Montreal and Carolina. None of those teams are flying high right now.
I’m feeling positive about the top two lines, but I’m concerned about most of the rest of the operation, the Kempny-Murphy pairing excluded. Q’s practice outburst has me hopeful the Blackhawks can respond tomorrow, create some momentum and get a nice little run going in which they aren’t constantly changing lines and pairings.