When a team goes down in a playoff series, the tendency for fans and media members is to try to figure out what kinds of lineup changes will spark the team. On the part of the Chicago Blackhawks, that hypothetical lineup shuffling began shortly after the team dropped a three-overtime thriller to the St. Louis Blues in Game 1, and it hasn’t stopped.
One of the primary targets of pundits and fans has been Michal Handzus, whose plodding skating style has been the subject of ridicule for quite some time. He will likely be spared the executioner’s axe because of his excellent play on the penalty kill for the Hawks, but his even strength time will likely continue to suffer as Joel Quenneville slots Ben Smith in at second line center to spell the veteran forward.
The other main target has been Kris Versteeg, who after an initial burst of solid play with the team following his acquisition from the Florida Panthers has been a virtual non-entity for the Hawks. He did pick up an assist in each of the first two games in this series, but in playing first line minutes and a lot of power play time, Versteeg really hasn’t shown the kind of offensive punch that the Hawks would like him to, and frankly he hasn’t been that great defensively either.
Both of those factors make Versteeg an intriguing possibility to be scratched from the lineup, but neither of them measure up to how poorly Brandon Bollig has been playing so far in this series. In fact, his only contribution to the team so far has been the fact that he tricked Steve Ott into engaging him after the second period horn on Saturday, earning both players 10 minute misconduct penalties. Outside of that, Bollig has been doing his usual thing, skating around and throwing checks while not contributing much else. He only played a shade under four minutes on Saturday despite the game going into overtime, and even without sitting out for the first half of a period Monday he played 5:05 of ice time, with just one shot on goal and two hits to show for his efforts.
The fact of the matter is that the Blackhawks can’t afford to keep putting Bollig in the lineup if Quenneville doesn’t trust him to play more than five minutes in a game. With a depleted defensive corps because of the absence of Brent Seabrook, and the fact that the Blues have outplayed Chicago through large stretches in the first three games, the Hawks need as many active skaters as they can get, and guys like Bollig simply aren’t getting the job done.
If Quenneville is going to address this issue, then he needs to find a way to get Jeremy Morin back in the lineup. Whether it’s on the third line with Andrew Shaw and Brandon Saad, or even as a direct replacement for Bollig on the fourth line, Morin can fill a variety of roles, and his offensive punch and defensive prowess were both on full display during a run late in the season that showcased his abilities and, more importantly, helped the Hawks to win games.
A Morin for Bollig swap isn’t going to cure all of what ails the Hawks, but it’s definitely a step in the right direction for a team that has been struggling to find its form in the first three games of this playoff series. With every game coming down to just a few key moments, having a guy like Morin is going to be more beneficial than Bollig at this point, and Quenneville needs to seriously consider this possibility before the puck drops on Game 4.