Saturday night, with most of the returning veterans on the ice for the Blackhawks, there were a few wrinkles that were intriguing. One specifically raised my eye brows on more than one occasion.
On multiple power plays last night, Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville brought out a lineup that was a fascinating change from what Hawks fans saw throughout last year.
For the most part last year, when the Blackhawks had a man advantage they would skate a bigger body (Dustin Byfuglien, Troy Brouwer) in front of the net while their two sniper defensemen, Duncan Keith and Brian Campbell, played one of the two point positions. On either wing was a combination of Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Patrick Kane, Kris Versteeg and Andrew Ladd. At the other point was usually Patrick Sharp to start.
Last night, the look was different already.
Obviously Byfuglien, Versteeg and Ladd are gone, which changes the scene out of the gate. And, last night, the Hawks were without Brouwer and Bryan Bickell (both of whom played in Detroit on Friday night). Here’s what the Hawks power play looked like on Saturday night:
Sharp and Toews on wings isn’t anything out of the ordinary. And without big bodies available, putting Kopecky in front of the net wasn’t a shock either.
But Kane at the point is not only new, but something that could present unique problems for Hawks opponents this year.
Chicago fans know what Kane can do with the puck. He’s a magician who can create his own shot and has remarkable vision on the ice; he finds space before it’s available. He is also one of the best in-traffic passers in the game today.
By putting Kane on the point, with Toews and Sharp on the wings, the Blackhawks have mind-numbing ability all over the ice. Add Bickell’s 6’4, 245-pound frame in front of the net, and it’s a recipe for disaster for goalies all over the league.
The one (big) question raised by the setup is Kane on the blue line. His ability to create in space makes it a natural fit for him, but he’s never been considered a defensive powerhouse; listed at a generous 5’10 and 178 pounds, the only thing Kane’s game lacks is size. Putting him on the blue line may make the Hawks vulnerable to short-handed opportunities when a pass goes wrong.
Obviously the remedy for a potential defensive liability is the reigning Norris Trophy winner, Keith. Between Keith and Campbell, the Hawks have two of the faster defensemen in the league, which give Quenneville enough confidence that this is a lineup that we see it during the regular season.