Chicago Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville has made his name in the Windy City by switching up line combinations at will, but on Thursday night, he pulled off one of his savviest moves yet.
Patrick Kane, who was the subject of intense media scrutiny before Game 4, came out of the gate a little bit flat in the game and wasn’t getting quite the jump that the team had expected from him. To counteract this, Quenneville made the decision to switch Kane from the second line with Michal Handzus and Patrick Sharp to the top line with Kane’s old running mate Jonathan Toews.
Needless to say, the move paid off like gangbusters. Not only were the results tangible with Kane scoring his first goal in eight games on a late second period tally, but there were also upsides that didn’t show up in the scoresheet.
Much like what happened when defenseman Brent Seabrook was repaired with Duncan Keith in the Detroit series, Kane was like a new player when he was reunited with Toews. He was much more aggressive in seeking out the puck, he stepped up his forechecking game quite a bit (including a notable one in the third period that allowed his teammates to get off on a line change), and just overall looked more engaged with all of the aspects of the game that Quenneville has said he wants his forwards to focus on.
This newfound excitement for Kane also kept him going through some tough times in the contest. Los Angeles Kings defenseman Robyn Regehr drilled Kane awkwardly into the boards in the third period, which gave the Hawks a power play but also shook Kane up quite a bit. Even still, he shrugged off the shot and was back on the ice in short order. Kane also took a wicked high stick to the chops in the third period from Kings forward Dustin Penner, but he pulled himself off the ice and got back into the play.
Obviously, a great deal of the credit for Kane’s play has to go to the 24-year old veteran, but Quenneville has to be given props for his mad professor act as well. The Hawks coach is never shy about messing with the team’s chemistry if it means giving his club an edge that it lacks, and time and again this postseason he has hammered that point home.
If the Hawks are to knock off the Kings and reach the Stanley Cup Finals (which they will have a chance to do on Saturday night at the United Center), then his willingness to mix things up to get the most out of his players will be at the forefront of the reasons why.