Before Friday night’s game between the Chicago Blackhawks and Nashville Predators, there was talk surrounding the team about whether or not head coach Joel Quenneville would begin to rest his players. He seems to be taking that approach with winger Patrick Sharp, who has been sitting out recently with an upper body injury, but he has also said in the past that he wants his guys sharp going into the playoffs, so it is reasonable to expect that they’ll still get some good minutes.
Friday night may give Quenneville pause in pursuing that more aggressive strategy, however. Even though no Blackhawks players ended up out of the game due to injury, both Andrew Shaw (puck to the forehead) and Michal Handzus (came off the ice favoring his arm) came up lame at different points. Last Sunday in St. Louis, captain Jonathan Toews also had an injury scare, but was able to come back after missing the end of the first period.
With those kinds of scares in mind, should Quenneville more strongly consider resting his strongest players during the last run to end the season? The Hawks, beneficiaries of a seven game winning streak, have locked up the top seed in the Western Conference playoffs, and are close to doing the same in clinching the President’s Trophy, so they have a bit of leeway with which to make this decision.
When one considers that the team is also in the midst of a stretch of six games in nine nights, the need for caution becomes even more paramount. When the Hawks played seven games in 11 days earlier this season, they looked incredibly gassed at the end of the run, and ended up losing two straight games to inferior opponents. Now, with the benefit of home ice already locked up, Quenneville needs to be judicious, and utilize the improved depth that the team has thanks to the roster size being expanded after the trade deadline.
In addition to resting key players like Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa, the Hawks could also benefit from getting some of their depth guys some minutes. Drew LeBlanc is a name that comes to mind, as the Hobey Baker Award winner could be looking to make a case to make next year’s roster. Jamal Mayers, a faceoff specialist who could come in handy if the Hawks encounter injury issues up the middle (not a stretch to imagine with a fragile Dave Bolland and an older Handzus in the fold), could benefit from some ice time in the season’s closing days. Finally, Brandon Bollig could use a game or two under his belt to keep him ready in case the Hawks are in need of some physicality come playoff time.
In the end, it is ultimately Quenneville’s gut that will determine who plays and who doesn’t over the season’s remaining games. This team is well poised for a deep playoff run largely because Quenneville’s intuition has been so spot on for the most part, and so if he feels that his guys would benefit more from playing than sitting, then that decision should be accepted by Hawks fans.