Sunday night was one of the worst nights of the season for the Chicago Blackhawks. They made a slew of defensive mistakes, allowed the Canucks to score five power play goals, and in general looked like a team who was not able to get up for their third game in four nights as they fell to the Vancouver Canucks 6-2 at the United Center. The Sedin twins both torched the Hawks for a combined seven points, and Roberto Luongo actually looked really solid in stopping 38 shots. It was a poor effort by the Hawks on defense, and head coach Joel Quenneville has seemingly responded by making some serious lineup changes.
Having allowed 17 goals in their previous four games (all of which saw Duncan Keith either absent or miss most of the game), the Hawks defense will be the first place to see some shakeups, with Keith possibly returning to the lineup on Tuesday against the St. Louis Blues in Missouri and joining Brent Seabrook in the top defensive pairing. Niklas Hjalmarsson, who has been paired with Seabrook for most of the opening portion of the season, was paired up with Nick Leddy in practice today. The third pairing consisted of Sami Lepisto and Sean O’Donnell, so it would appear that Steve Montador will be the odd man out as a healthy scratch if Keith does return to the lineup.
On the offensive side, there were massive line shakeups everywhere. Patrick Sharp, who has found success with Marian Hossa and Patrick Kane this season, was shifted up to top line duty, joining Jonathan Toews and Michael Frolik in practice today. Kane will still be with Hossa on the second line, but will be joined by Daniel Carcillo. The third line was centered by Dave Bolland, with Rostislav Olesz (who has been a healthy scratch for all but two games for the Hawks this season) and Andrew Brunette. On the fourth line, Marcus Kruger (who was one of the few Hawks who could argue they had a good game on Sunday) was centering Jamal Mayers and Viktor Stalberg. Bryan Bickell, who has been one of the more inconsistent guys in the lineup for Chicago, looks like he will join Montador in the pressbox at Scottrade Center on Tuesday.
Quenneville has a well-earned reputation in hockey circles for a willingness to tinker with his lines in games, and he is rarely wedded to lines from game-to-game, as he has shown throughout his time in Chicago. These line changes, however, seem to be a crazy change-up when you consider where the Hawks are in the standings this season. It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that the Hawks came out relatively flat on Sunday, considering that they had back-to-back road games in Florida on Thursday and Friday, and they have been playing a very high energy game all season.
When you look closer at the Hawks’ production over the past four games or so, however, the Hawks have been slipping in several key areas. After beginning the year on a great run of killing penalties, the Hawks have now allowed power play goals in each of their last two games and three of their last four, and have allowed goals on seven of the past 11 power plays that they have allowed.
In addition to the woes in that area, the Hawks have just looked bad on defense in general, giving up nearly 38 shots per game in their past three contests and making several defensive blunders that have led to goals. Whether it was Sami Lepisto leaving Vincent Lecavalier wide open in front of the net on Tampa Bay’s game winning goal Friday, or any of the dumb plays by any defenseman against the Canucks Sunday, the team’s defense has simply looked inept in recent days, and so it very well may be a smart move for Quenneville to shake things up.
As for the offense, they haven’t had much of an issue generating chances as of late. They still have only been held under 30 shots once in 14 games this year, and even in a terrible game against Vancouver, they still got 40 shots, and they really were making a concerted effort to get to the front of the net and interrupt Luongo’s rhythm. It was a solid effort with not much to show for it, but certain players have been faltering more than others, so Quenneville is right to at least give this a shot.
As a word of caution to Joel, he needs to make sure not to just keep throwing everyone on new lines after every period. It is tempting to do that until you find something that pays immediate dividends, but in an 82-game schedule, and with a team that has shown that it has plenty of talent, Quenneville has to show some leniency on offense and not go crazy with changes.
As for defense, Quenneville liked having Keith and Seabrook separated because it added to the overall depth of the blue line corps, but with Leddy having struggled recently, it makes sense to put a higher burden on the two workhorses to try to strengthen the defense. This experiment shouldn’t be a season-long thing, as both players really struggled last year with big minutes, but for the short-term, this is exactly the right move for this club.
Obviously Quenneville has bought himself some leeway with the team’s performance this season and in the past three years, but he has to maintain a delicate balance between changes with logic behind them and just throwing crap at the wall and seeing what will stick.