It was the same story in a different place for the Chicago Blackhawks on Friday night, as they coughed up a late goal to Sheldon Souray and fell to the Anaheim Ducks 2-1. The loss pulled the Ducks to within three games of the scuffling Hawks, and added some fuel to the fire of doubt that is building up around the Hawks.
One of the most telling elements of this loss was the Hawks’ complete inability to stop Anaheim’s top line. The line of Bobby Ryan ,Ryan Getzlaf, and Corey Perry skated with impunity all over United Center ice in the game, and the result was that they were responsible for a goal and 10 shots against Chicago goaltender Ray Emery. They were also on the ice for Souray’s game winner in the third period during what was perhaps their best display of their dominance over Chicago.
After that debacle, quite a few Hawks fans were saying that they hoped their club wouldn’t have to face the Ducks in the playoffs this season. Instead of fretting about that, it would help to come up with a solution to counteract that kind of front-loading, and it involves doing a bit of line juggling.
The Blackhawks’ third line this season has been lauded for its consistency and ability to score, and with good reason. The trio of Viktor Stalberg, Andrew Shaw, and Bryan Bickell looked especially great on Friday, and even though they didn’t score, they were the only group on the Hawks that were able to put any pressure on Anaheim.
The best example of that came in the second period, when the third line had a lengthy possession in the Ducks’ zone. After Jonas Hiller finally froze the puck, the television networks went to a TV timeout. After the game resumed, that line was right back on the ice and once again fired several shots and had the Ducks scurrying all over the ice.
That is exactly the kind of offensive punch that the Blackhawks need more of, so for Sunday’s game against the Detroit Red Wings, Joel Quenneville should try these line combinations on for size:
Saad – Toews – Kane
Stalberg – Shaw – Bickell
Hayes – Bolland – Frolik
Mayers – Kruger – Carcillo
Simply put, Dave Bolland and Jimmy Hayes aren’t doing any favors for Patrick Kane on the second line. Rather than continuing to hold this pattern while the Hawks wait for Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp to rejoin the team, Chicago should bump Bolland and Hayes down to the third line while elevating Kane up to the top line. Then, shift the entire third line up to second line status and have them take more offensive zone assignments and give the job of defending a team’s top line to Bolland and company.
That strategy has worked like gangbusters during several playoff runs for the Blackhawks, including their Stanley Cup run in 2010. Bolland is a more natural fit at third line center anyway, and while the traditional arrangement that we’re prescribing isn’t an exact fit for the Hawks’ style of play, it would at the very least add a new wrinkle for Detroit to worry about on Sunday morning.