While meeting the media on Friday, Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville confirmed that the coaching staff will have a conversation about whether they turn to Ray Emery in net for Game Five in Phoenix.
That’s just one of a number of decisions the team needs to make to improve their chances of winning on Saturday, and into the future.
On Thursday night, Quenneville mixed up his rotation by inserting veteran center Brendan Morrison into the lineup in place of the more physical Jamal Mayers. And, shockingly, Morrison scored his first goal as a member of the Blackhawks to get Chicago on the board in the third period.
If Quenneville is going to mix up his lines, he needs to get real with the players on his roster. And he needs to make some critical decisions.
Leave Brandon Saad in the lineup.
He was as good as most of the veterans on Thursday night, and his confidence should only increase with a home game under his belt. He was physical, smart with the puck, and skated hard; if we could say that about three of the defensemen on the roster, this season might not be on the brink.
Dress Jimmy Hayes in place of Andrew Brunette.
Brunette, 38, played 13:43 on Thursday night. He was credited with one hit and one shot on net in 16 shifts, and was minus-one in the game. Hayes, 22, hasn’t played since April 7 in Detroit.
Brunette is too slow for the NHL, much less a Chicago team that desperately needs to accelerate the pace of the game. Frankly, at this point in the postseason, if Hayes isn’t ready for the playoffs it doesn’t matter much because not many of the veterans have shown up yet either. See if the 6’6″ 200-pound rookie can match the one shot and one hit that Brunette produced on Thursday night.
Brunette won’t be here next year; Hayes will be. Get the kid some playoff experience and up the tempo.
Dress Brandon Pirri in place of Morrison/Mayers.
Just about everything I said about playing Hayes over Brunette is true here as well. Pirri, who turned 21 on April 10, might not be as big as Hayes (listed at 6’1″ and 180 pounds), but he was an AHL All-Star this year and led Rockford in scoring with 23 goals and 33 assists in games.
Morrison skated just over nine minutes on Thursday night, lost all four of his faceoffs, and scored a goal on two shots on net. Mayers is averaging 8:45 per game with zero points through three games. The Hawks need to add speed to the lineup, and Pirri’s had a nice offensive year.
And, again, Pirri will be here next year. Get the kid some experience.
The veterans pieces that were brought in for one year served their purpose: the Blackhawks survived an injury-plagued regular season and made the playoffs.
But now the bottom line is simple. The Blackhawks must play the lineup that gives them the best chance to win now, and must also consider the future of the organization as well. Putting a couple of kids into the lineup for veterans that haven’t been productive might not only be the best choice for the organization long-term, but would likely improve the current team’s chances of advancing.
Based on what we’ve seen from the Hawks offense so far this postseason, playing Pirri and Hayes certainly couldn’t make matter worse.