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Will Quenneville stick with his line changes?

Jun 5, 2010, 10:30 AM EDT

I can understand Joel Quenneville’s stubbornness.

After all, they’ve been so successful all season and for the entire
run of the playoffs and there’s no way that Patrick Kane and Jonathan
Toews would continue to struggle together. Yet for the first three
games, the top line of Kane, Toews and Byfuglien weren’t just
ineffective — they were downright bad.

The trend continued in Game 4, and only when the Blackhawks were down
4-1 did Quenneville start to split the two up. He didn’t stick with one
set combination, opting instead to mix and match his two best players
with a number of other linemates as he searched for some way for the
Blackhawks to get their mojo back.

Of course, Quenneville wasn’t very revealing about his thought
process behind the changes in the third period.

“Sometimes you try to mix it up a little bit, whether it’s a matchup
or get some energy going in the lines,” Quenneville said right before
leaving the podium. “We didn’t like some things. Sometimes you try
some things. I thought the energy came.”

Quenneville started off
by taking Dustin Byfuglien of the top line with Toews and Kane and
placing him on a bigger line with Andrew Ladd. Once the Hawks started to
roll in the third period, and once they were able to put together three
effective lines, then the Flyers started to have all sorts of issues
with the Hawks’ attack.

Until the third period, the Blackhawks had
become a very stale offensive team. Sure, there were goals being scored
but this was far from the Chicago team we thought we knew. A lot of the
credit has to go to the Flyers, who have done a tremendous job of
shutting down the top line of the Blackhawks all series long.

“[Carle
and Pronger] have done a tremendous job, not just tonight and not just
this series but throughout the playoffs,” Danny Briere said after the
game when asked about the Flyers defensemen. “Every team we’ve played
they’ve seemed to shut down their top guys. But we can’t forget that
Chicago also has a lot of firepower.”

Marian Hossa and Patrick
Sharp were easily the best forwards on the ice for the Blackhawks
tonight, and Quenneville was able to start getting them space as well
when he changed the lines up and spread out the attack a bit. With
Pronger and Matt Carle doing such a good job of shutting down Toews, the
Flyers were also able to take adavantage of their shortcomings on
defense.

It’s incredibly odd to keep writing this, but the player
that was so good for the Hawks in the first three rounds and the player
many considered the favorite for the Conn Smythe has struggled mightily
against the Flyers. Kane and Toews were a combined minus-6 last night,
and it wasn’t until Quenneville finally broke them up that we started to
see some effectiveness from the two.

So the question is, will we
see these changes continue? After the game Danny Briere and Simon Gagne
both acknowledged that the Flyers had trouble adjusting to the changes
the Blackhawks had made in the third period. Obviously, Quenneville
isn’t going to do the exact same thing that worked at the end but you
have to think that Toews and Kane need to continue to be split up going
forward.

With Chicago headed back home, and knowing the history of
this team, then I would venture we’ll see the two right back together
to start Game 5. However, there’s a good chance that if they start to
struggle again and the Hawks have issue rolling out a consistent
three-line attack, that Quenneville won’t hesitate to move them around
again. Of course, it’s much easier to work on those changes in practice
than it is to change on the fly in the middle of a game.

If
Quenneville is smart, if he truly is the coach to lead the Blackhawks to
the Stanley Cup, then he won’t shy away from the changes that need to
be made and proved effective in Game 4.

  1. PolegoJim - Jun 6, 2010 at 9:00 AM

    Hockey more than any other sport is about adustments and keeping your opponent back on their skates.
    Joel is up for the task.

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