Why the Chicago Blackhawks need to Focus on Line Chemistry
By Jeremiah Lee
The Chicago Blackhawks have been playing eleven forwards, seven defensemen. The problem here is that neither group develops any chemistry with each other.
Eleven forwards and seven defensemen could do great things for a team, heck, the Tampa Bay Lightning won the Stanley Cup using this method. This, however, does not work for a young team like the Chicago Blackhawks.
With a young roster with prospects who are expected to play together for a long time, the team should be doing what they can to put lines together and stick with them. Once young players learn how to play with the guys they are on a line with, you usually never have to worry about them missing plays. They know exactly where their guys are. When you run eleven forwards, there is no chance for them to find chemistry with each other.
This stinks for the defensemen, too. Because they never have the same partner on D, they sometimes don’t know what the other guy is going to do. The great thing about Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook from 2009-2017 was that they always knew what the other was going to do, and they just had to play their game.
They trusted each other’s play, and never worried about covering for them if the other made a mistake since they were already back to defend. Same with Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya, they knew where the other guy was going to be.
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As the Blackhawks have a young defensive corps, the coaching staff can’t keep changing their defensive partners and expect the same results. Sure, this worked against Detroit, but, it’s Detroit.
You can’t expect the results to be the same against the top teams in the league. Ian Mitchell is a stud, but you have to keep him with the same guy, preferably Duncan Keith (as he has been recently), for the season. Same with Adam Boqvist, pair him with Calvin de Haan or Connor Murphy when he returns for the season.
As far as the forward lines go, they have been set up pretty well until the eleven forward system came in. They had an aggressive forecheck, which disappeared in the last couple of games, and they were able to make plays with each other because they knew where the other guy was going to be.
They have great forwards, but the eleven guys can’t keep up the same energy as they had with twelve. Some lines, like the former HBK line of the Pittsburgh Penguins, developed their own identity: fast, relentless, and a guy who can shoot the puck from anywhere and bury it. The Chicago Blackhawks have a chance to have multiple tough lines, but they never let the prospects stay together long enough to develop chemistry.
Skilled guys were playing with other skilled guys generating offense based on those abilities while guys, creating a great first line in Pius Suter, Alex Debrincat, and Patrick Kane. The character guys, such as Brandon Hagel, Ryan Carpenter, Reese Johnson, worked hard to draw penalties and make life miserable for the opposition.
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You don’t find magic from random lines with a young team, and instead, find them lost and overwhelmed. Their energy and track-meet style has also been lacking since the eleven forwards, seven defensemen system was deployed.
If the Chicago Blackhawks want to play against the best, they have to go back to the way they were playing in their 7-1-1 streak. The system they run could have been successful with teams in 2010-17 when they had veterans who knew how to play with new guys every shift, but not first-year rookies. They were out of sorts in their own zone vs Carolina, yelling at each other to cover a certain guy or part of the ice more often than not. I didn’t see much of this in the 12 forwards, 6 D system.
Essentially, chemistry is everything for this Chicago Blackhawks team. They can trust each other and not have to think too much about where the other guy is or will be going. They know their role and the role their lines play, and accomplish that role every game. To do this, Jeremy Colliton has to set his lines and let the guys figure out how to play with each other.