Even though he didn't win the Jack Adams Award as coach of the year, Chicago Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville is still regarded as one of the best coaches in the league.
His willingness to tinker with line combinations, as well as his ability to get the most out of his younger players, are renowned throughout the league, and that recognition is well-deserved, considering he has taken the Hawks to the Stanley Cup Final in two of the past four seasons.
During the Hawks’ previous two games, however, it seems like Quenneville’s magic touch has been a bit off.
Those games, both of which were at home and therefore gave the Hawks the advantage of last line change, have seen Quenneville sending out Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, the team’s top defensive pairing, against the Bruins’ second line of forwards instead of their top line. That decision had disastrous consequences in Game 1, as Milan Lucic scored twice for the Bruins against Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya, but the Hawks were able to overcome it in winning that game.
Quenneville continued to do that in Game 2, and even though it worked this time, one still has to wonder what his motivation is there.
In addition to that, Quenneville also has been sending captain Jonathan Toews out into the lion’s den for his shifts. Instead of trying to get his offensively-challenged captain (he has one goal in the playoffs) out against a weaker/less physical defensive matchup, Quenneville routinely sent him out against 6-foot-9 defenseman Zdeno Chara in Game 2.
In a game that saw the Bruins’ hitting have a disastrous impact on the Hawks’ team speed, it seems silly that Quenneville would continue to send his best forwards out against the Bruins’ best defensemen, and the lackluster offensive effort by the team in the final three periods of the game definitely raises some questions about the logic of the decision.
Finally, questions have to be asked about Quenneville’s power play decisions. He shook things up a bit before Game 2 with different line combinations, and he even went so far as to change up combos on the fly in the contest. In fact, there were only two Blackhawks players that saw zero ice time on the power play: Brandon Bollig and Bryan Bickell, who just so happens to be the team’s second leading scorer in the playoffs.
There could be a little bit more than meets the eye with this decision, however. Quenneville is known to be stubborn with personnel decisions (just ask Viktor Stalberg about this), but that stubbornness could be less of a factor than a potential injury or fatigue for the free-agent to be.
If Bickell is hurt, then it would stand to reason that Quenneville wouldn’t want him on the ice during power play situations, since his role on those plays is to be the big body in front, and that requires a big physical effort against the hulking Bruins penalty killers.
Even still, with the series tied at one game apiece, the Hawks are still very much alive despite the odd strategies that Quenneville has been employing, but if the Hawks aren’t able to steal a game on the road in Boston, decisions like these will continue to be asked.