When a team’s offense hasn’t scored for more than 120 minutes, it can reasonably be argued that it is time for a change.
In the case of the Chicago Blackhawks, however, change hasn’t exactly come quickly, as head coach Joel Quenneville has seemingly tried every line combination he can think of to avoid doing what Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston suggested in his column today:
“It’s clearly time for Quenneville to more aggressively try and tilt the matchups in his team’s favour.
“The most obvious move would be reuniting Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane for more than a handful of shifts at even strength.
“They were magic for two games at the end of the Western Conference final against Los Angeles, but have barely been seen together on the ice for more than a passing second in this series.”
The only times that Kane and Toews have been together has been after the Blackhawks complete a penalty kill, when Quenneville likes to load up both his forward and defensive lines to capitalize on the momentum of a successful kill. Normally, the other winger in those situations is Marian Hossa, but since he was out of last night’s game with an upper body injury, Quenneville instead put Patrick Sharp in there.
The question, then, is why hasn’t Quenneville gone to that line on a more regular basis? Games 4 and 5 of the conference finals, as Johnston alluded to, were a showcase for the abilities of Kane and Toews when paired together, with Kane notching four goals in the two contests and Toews picking up several key helpers, including the pass on the 2-on-1 break that set up Kane’s series winner in Game 5.
Ever since, it’s been like Quenneville is actively looking for ways to avoid putting the two together. Game 3 was the most egregious example, with Toews skating with Michael Frolik and Marcus Kruger throughout much of the contest. Kane has also been victimized by Quenneville’s decision-making, skating with the dead weight formerly known as Michal Handzus, whose plodding approach has gotten even worse during the Final, and whose 0-for-10 performance in the faceoff circle was so bad that he has people clamoring for him to be removed from the lineup.
The decision by Quenneville not to go back to a Kane-Toews pairing is even more perplexing because of the success that Sharp actually had with Handzus in those conference final games. Hossa also looked good on that second line, but apparently none of that has been good enough to sway Quenneville’s opinion to this point, so one has to wonder if it will be good enough now.
For all we know, Quenneville could be thinking that if he loads up the top line, then it could be easier for the Bruins to shut more of his stars down, but if we’re being honest with ourselves, they are being shut down anyway. It would be better for Quenneville to take the risk of the Bruins loading up defensively against his stars, because even if they fail to produce, it could provide an opening for his talented depth players to step up.
He truly has nothing to lose by making this decision, but he does have a Cup Final to lose if he doesn’t.