The Chicago Blackhawks started out their series against the Los Angeles Kings with a solid offensive showing in Game 1, but ever since then they have been struggling to put the puck in the net.
Jonathan Toews picked up two goals for the Blackhawks in Game 3 of the series, but outside of that kind of top line production, the Blackhawks have been virtually silent elsewhere in the lineup. Patrick Kane has yet to register a point in the series, and even though Patrick Sharp did chip in a goal during Saturday’s loss, it was a moot point as the Hawks were down 4-2 at the time with just four seconds remaining in the contest.
After the game, there was some talk about whether or not head coach Joel Quenneville should shuffle up his lines. One particular suggestion was that the team should reunite Toews with Kane and Bryan Bickell to form the line that was so ridiculously successful during last season’s Stanley Cup championship run. Kane has struggled in a big way on a line with Sharp and Michal Handzus, and even though he showed some flashes of potential when paired up with Ben Smith in Game 3, Kane still has yet to find his touch so far in the series.
While reuniting Kane and Toews has proven to be a reliable recipe for success in the past, including during last season’s second round when the Blackhawks trailed the Red Wings 3-1 in the series, there is a price that would have to be paid in order to do so now. The Hawks’ top line of Hossa-Toews-Bickell has not only been the source of the team’s primary scoring threat so far in this round, but they have also played excellent defense against the top line of the Kings. Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, and Marian Gaborik have been held largely in check as the series has worn on, and Quenneville has set up that matchup at every opportunity.
At the end of the day, the question becomes a simple one: are the Blackhawks willing to sacrifice defensive effectiveness for the chance of getting Kane off the skid that he finds himself on?
For us, the answer is a reluctant no. Kane does need to be sparked, but the Blackhawks have been completely unable to stop the Kings’ second line in this series, and adding more gunpowder to Los Angeles’ offensive arsenal by allowing the team’s top line to skate more freely doesn’t seem like a smart idea.
Instead, Quenneville needs to simply continue to tinker with the guy skating between Sharp and Kane on the second line. Whether it’s Smith or a guy like Marcus Kruger or Andrew Shaw, that line needs to start producing more, and adding some speed should help Kane and Sharp to get more open ice. The Toews line is too critically important to the team’s defensive strategy against the Kings to break up, and even though the Kane/Toews combination is an effective one, it’s one that would pose an unnecessary risk if it were deployed.