Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville has gone a bit wacky with his latest line combinations, which are clearly an overreaction to some happenings last week
If you hopped on Twitter late this morning/early this afternoon, you likely saw some new Chicago Blackhawks lines. No surprise here, as the team has lost four straight games while picking up just two of eight possible points.
However, the way these lines look is so far out of left field, former Chicago Cub Moises Alou would probably shout about it. Let’s have a look, shall we?
OK. I’m going to go through each of these lines and break down what I think coach Joel Quenneville expects from them, and then talk about why I think these adjustments are a major overreaction.
Yeah, this is not a first line. This isn’t a first line for the present-day Buffalo Sabres, let alone a team purporting to contend for a Stanley Cup.
The writing was on the wall regarding the Brandon Saad–Jonathan Toews–Richard Panik line last week. All three guys were struggling, and John Hayden‘s insertion into the group Sunday at least provided a spark (though not to its offensive production).
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So how did Q get to adding Ryan Hartman to this mix with Toews and Hayden? That’s beyond me. This is a checking line now, more or less. That’s how Hayden and Hartman have been used most of the last month, so now you expect them to produce first-line points with Toews?
That’s just a wild logical leap. I think Q is honestly expecting this line to be a sparkplug line that just batters opponents to the ice and pucks into the net. Considering Hartman hasn’t done a thing in weeks and Hayden needs at least one playmaker to get him going most of the time, I’m not quite sure how that’s going to work.
This is now the first line. At least Saad and Patrick Kane can have some fun spinning circles around opponents. Of course, that’s assuming Kane is motivated to do so. Playing alongside Saad should help with that, while Artem Anisimov is going to be asked to keep up with two of the team’s quickest skaters.
This is definitely the bona fide scoring line now. It’s easily the best line of these four, though I’m not sure that’s saying a whole lot. (And almost any line with Kane is going to be the best one, anyway, from an offensive standpoint.)
Two thirds of this, I can totally get behind. Nick Schmaltz and Alex DeBrincat were fun to watch during their brief stints with Kane in training camp. I’d love to watch these two just shred opposing defenders through skating and slick passes.
And then there’s Lance Bouma. I mean … why? I guess you have him stand in front of the net, and that’s fine. But here’s the thing: Opposing defenders aren’t going to pay a lick of attention to him unless he’s mugging their goaltender.
Bouma can’t keep up with Schmaltz and DeBrincat, as far as skating, passing or finishing. He’s the fourth-liner to their first-liner status. And that’s fine, except when you try to put it together to form a secondary scoring line.
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I would not be surprised if Schmaltz and DeBrincat make this work in spite of Bouma. Some will say Bouma is out there to provide “the grit” so Schmaltz and DeBrincat don’t get knocked down too often, but anyone who watches the Blackhawks regularly knows that’s a fallacy.
Hm. OK. I. What?
Like, what is this line even supposed to accomplish? Is it literally out there to fill space? That’s what it feels like. Panik is a grinder who has some offensive tendencies, Wingels is a grinder who doesn’t have those tendencies and Sharp is just floating around at this point.
Is Tanner Kero missing a body part? Are the Blackhawks really that afraid of losing Kero or Jordan Oesterle on waivers that Vinnie Hinostroza can’t make the trip north to provide some life to this bottom six? I just don’t get it.
Why these lines exist
If it seems like I’m a little frustrated with Q’s decisions, it’s because I am. I feel these lines are a violent overreaction to two events: the top line’s offensive struggles, and the Blackhawks’ offense taking a step back amid its most strenuous stretch of games.
Yes, a change needed to be made on the top line. There was no doubt. You cannot have your secondary scoring line plodding around the way that line was. Hayden is not who I would have chosen to replace Panik, but it was a step toward change.
What didn’t need to happen was replacing Saad with Hartman on top of replacing Panik with literally anyone. If Hartman was top three on this team in points, yeah, go for it. But you’re just diluting what’s supposed to be your top line, and quite badly diluting it.
Why DeBrincat cannot get some shifts with Saad and Toews is beyond me. It didn’t work that one time in that one game, so let’s never do it again? Why was Trevor van Riemsdyk on defense a thing for essentially two seasons if that mentality exists?
On the other point, it shouldn’t have surprised anyone Chicago’s offense wasn’t going to follow up that seven-goal outburst against Anaheim with seven more each of the next four games over six nights. That’s lunacy. Yeah, eight goals in four games isn’t great, but consider the difficulty of that stretch compared to the rest of the season.
Outside the top line, the offense was actually humming along decently. To blow it up because it couldn’t keep up a pace of 5-7 goals per game in a ridiculous stretch of games is insanity. It’s like what Blackhawk Up’s Sean Fitzgerald has suggested, but tilted entirely on its head.
Maybe these lines will somehow produce a win. The Blackhawks get to try it out against the Washington Capitals tonight, and it sounds like Corey Crawford could be back in net as soon as Sunday. Could he win with these lines in front of him? Probably, because he’s fantastic. Can Anton Forsberg and J.F. Berube win with these lines in front of them? Good luck, guys.