In what could be called their most disappointing loss of the season, the Chicago Blackhawks dropped a 2-1 decision to the Anaheim Ducks Thursday night, falling behind by a 2-1 margin in the Western Conference Final.
Before the game even started, there was already reason for skepticism about the outcome as head coach Joel Quenneville made two late changes to the lineup. He benched Teuvo Teravainen and Antoine Vermette, who had formed a nice third line combination with Patrick Sharp, and inserted Kris Versteeg and Joakim Nordstrom into the lineup.
To say that the changes failed to have a positive impact would be an understatement. Andrew Shaw struggled at the center position for the Blackhawks, frequently skating out of position and showing none of the flash that he had in the previous games at the winger spot. Meanwhile, Versteeg looked rusty as he skated around the ice and failed to convert on several scoring chances, and Nordstrom made a key tactical error as his poor defense led to the second Anaheim goal late in the second period.
When asked after the game about why he had made the decision, Quenneville said that he wanted to get some “fresh legs” in the lineup, but that explanation isn’t sitting right with some Hawks fans. Why mess with the lineup that has won five out of six games and had just evened up this series on Tuesday night?
Since coaches in the sports world are notorious for giving vague and occasionally misleading answers, we’re going to run down some of the potential explanations for why Quenneville did what he did as we try to piece together the Game 3 loss.
He Genuinely Believes His “Fresh Legs” Sentiment
This explanation is not a satisfactory one on just about any level. Why replace the best face-off taker in the lineup and a player who barely cracks 10 minutes of ice time a game with two players who are going to be unquestionably rusty and haven’t practiced as full members of the lineup in weeks?
He is Unsatisfied With Teravainen and Vermette’s Offensive Performance
This has a bit more truth to it, but still raises questions about what exactly Quenneville expects from the duo. After all, having these two players in the lineup allows Patrick Sharp to have some really high quality linemates, and it also enables Andrew Shaw to stay in the winger spot, where he has looked truly outstanding in the first two games of this series.
He Wanted to Give Versteeg a Chance to Earn His Spot Back
This explanation feels like we’re getting closer to the truth. Versteeg has been a security blanket for Quenneville at the forward spot all season long, and trying to inject him into the lineup when the coach can dictate matchups on home ice seems like something that the veteran Quenneville would be willing to do.
He’s Trying to Deal With an Injury to One or Both Players
This explanation is a definite possibility considering that the team is just coming off of a triple overtime victory. Vermette is the player more likely to have sustained an injury out of the two, and if Quenneville had to remove him from the lineup, there is a possibility that he views him as a security blanket for Teravainen, and therefore both had to go.