Chicago Blackhawks Find Spark From Balanced Lines
By Stephen Yatsushiro
Three on a match
To start the third period, coach Jeremy Colliton changed up his lines. Although the top line of Brandon Saad–Jonathan Toews–Patrick Kane managed to tally a goal, they were getting killed in their own zone. Additionally, the lack of balance was killing the team’s ability to maintain any momentum shift to shift.
Put simply: the top-heavy first line theory was not working out
So Colliton came out with a new top line of John Hayden-Toews-Saad, and this new beefy line began to pummel the Panthers with offensive zone possession time. In addition, a new second line of Alex DeBrincat–Artem Anisimov–Kane was a formidable second punch in driving possession.
The third line, now with Nick Schmaltz–Kampf–Dominik Kahun, provided steady north-south speed. And finally, the fourth line of Alexndre Fortin–Marcus Kruger–Andreas Martinsen managed to hold their own as well.
To see how much of a difference these line combinations made, take a look at the following graphic from Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath).
The chart flows chronologically from top to bottom. You can clearly see how the balanced attack resulted in the Chicago Blackhawks controlling the play with a huge majority of shots in the third period.
The change in momentum carried into the overtime period as well.
A method to the madness?
If the balanced attack is so much more effective, why even load up the top line in the first place? The Athletic’s Scott Powers interviewed Jeremy Colliton, and Colliton offered this explanation:
"“If we play them together, they’ve got to produce,” Colliton said. “But sometimes when you spread them out, no one produces. By loading them up, it puts some pressure on them. But hopefully they play so well, it doesn’t matter who has the puck — they’re making plays, they break through anyway, no matter who they’re playing against. That’s what we ask of them, and so far they’re coming through for us.”"
Many teams are utilizing this approach to max out with a near-unstoppable top line.
But as Colliton asserts, that top line has to produce. The positive result from combining Toews, Saad, and Kane is that the three players are now playing at a high level from having played with top talent.
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As Hayden was inserted into the top line, that line was able to bring his energy along as a compliment to their renewed high level play. I’d call this new unit the Punisher Line (patent pending). Their physicality as a unit has great potential for success.
The new second line of Anisimov, Kane and DeBrincat now has two seasoned veterans bringing along a highly talented youngster who is prone to committing turnovers. Even so, DeBrincat’s skill set makes him a desirable partner for Kane.
In the 2018 International Ice Hockey Federation Men’s World Championship, Team USA coach Jeff Blashill found Kane and Johnny Gaudreau to be incompatible, contrary to prior expectations.
The two players were too similar as playmakers, and neither could score. When Blashill combined the sniper DeBrincat with Kane, good things started happening.
Substituting DeBrincat for the pass-happy Nick Schmaltz should net similar results.