Blackhawks Fourth Line Band-Aid Raises Questions

When the Blackhawks face the New Jersey Devils on Wednesday night, their fourth line will be made up of two defensemen and a wing playing center.

What?

That’s right. Jordan Hendry and John Scott will flank Fernando Pisani as the fourth line for Joel Quenneville’s team tonight. This comes on the heels of a tough road loss at the Rangers in which the Hawks admittedly struggled to get a quality scoring chance. The team demoted Ryan Potulny and Ben Smith to Rockford on Tuesday.

Why would the Hawks handicap their offense heading into a game they should win? There are a few possibilities.

First, based on ice time in the brief season, it appears the Hawks will give their top nine forwards a substantially heavier work load. With Dave Bolland and Marian Hossa both out until at least the weekend, this means Jack Skille, Jake Dowell and Viktor Stalberg will see increased action.

And those three forwards have earned bigger minutes.

The move to play Hendry and Scott at a forward position is likely a function of Quenneville being encouraged by the play of his young skaters. In most games throughout Quenneville’s tenure as coach in Chicago, the fourth line disappears early in the third period. Tonight he’s placing faith in what was his fourth line to handle a bigger role and contribute in the capacity a third or second line player should in those minutes.

The foundation of this belief is built on the solid early play of Dowell, Skille and Stalberg. The case for the questionable third line is grounded in another hallmark of Quenneville’s tenure: matchups.

The Devils team the Hawks host Wednesday night is more banged up and playing with fewer options than the Blackhawks are right now. We talked about their injury concerns on Tuesday, and a team that was struggling to score with superstar Zach Parise on the ice will have an even harder time with a shorter rotation in his absence.

Quenneville has always been a champion of winning individual matchups. Because the Devils are so short-handed, there is likely a confidence in the Hawks locker room that their depth with three lines is enough to skate with the bodies New Jersey brings to the fight.

Is assuming depth a dangerous proposition? Absolutely. The blow out loss to the young Edmonton Oilers shows that no team is good enough to win a game no matter the competition if that opponent is taken for granted in the NHL today. But the reality of Quenneville’s rotation use means Hendy and Scott are merely cosmetic names on the roster; neither will skate more than seven or eight minutes, and won’t see the ice in a crucial situation.

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2 Responses to Blackhawks Fourth Line Band-Aid Raises Questions

  1. pfanzler says:

    Any time those two goofs are on the ice, it becomes a “crucial situation”, even more so if they play forward. It was our forward depth and the ability of all 4 lines to protect the puck last year, not just our vaunted defense, that limited our shots against average. We limited opponents shots by limiting their time of possession, by dominating in their end, not by dominating in our own end. Our defensive core is the same, but our shot differential has gone in the tank because we replaced smart, skilled role players with stone-handed buffoons who can’t skate and won’t hit, instead of reloading with speed, skill, and youth. Stalberg, Skille, and Dowell deserve the extra minutes. They have outplayed all but a couple of Hawks forwards. Any two of them could be on our second line in February. With the top 4 defensemen we have, there should be no need to dress 4 more. It’s absurd. Instead, Q should put a legitimate fourth line on the ice, with Beach, Morin, and Pisani. Dressing Scott and Hendry at forward is a waste of sweaters and gatorade, and assumes we can win with 3 lines. I don’t know what gives Q, or anyone else, the idea that the Hawks can beat anybody by using 4 lines, let alone 3. The company line is that the kids aren’t ready yet, but after a dozen games, I can’t name 6 forwards or 4 blueliners that look “ready” to play, fight, work or win. If getting benched in favor of a teenage rookie isn’t enough to make Scott (or any other Hawk) commit to the Indian, commit him to the ‘Hogs.

  2. matt says:

    @pfanzler-
    i love the 4th line idea of beach/morin/pisani. having hendry and scott up there last night was a joke. i’ve seen scott give up the puck too many times to be convinced of his worth. offense this year has suffered, except for the bright spots of hossa and sharp. hopefully things will improve when they get back, but in the mean time, games still need to be won!

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