After three games against Nashville, the Hawks offense was desperately seeking answers. Pekka Rinne was playing great hockey and the Hawks were struggling to get the puck out of their own zone. Because of these problems, the team brought Brian Campbell back from injury sooner than anticipated and replaced Ben Eager and Colin Fraser with Adam Burish and Bryan Bickell up front. The changes were exactly the spark the team needed, and the Hawks haven’t lost since adding Campbell, Bickell and Burish to the mix.
What was most interesting about the additions was that Bickell, who spent almost the entire season in Rockford, played with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews on the team’s top line. He played well, though, and his presence in front of the net was a great addition to that line; what coach Joel Quenneville hoped would happen did, and the changes he made worked well across the board.
But the first round is over. The Blackhawks will five days off between games, and are making more changes despite winning their last three consecutive games with strong performances.
The game plan for the Chicago Blackhawks in their upcoming series with the Vancouver Canucks is simple, and has not changed in 14 months: get butts in front of Roberto Luongo. Last year, Dustin Byfuglien exploded into a prominent position on the roster by making Luongo’s life hell in the Hawks series victory, and the scouting report on Luongo has continued to be that this is the best way to beat him.
As the 2009-10 season concluded, and the Hawks dealt with a number of injuries on their blue line, Byfuglien was moved back to defense out of necessity and played fairly well down the stretch. In the first round of the playoffs against Nashville, however, Byfuglien has issues passing and getting the puck up the ice from the blue line and caused more headaches for the Hawks than the Predators.
With Vancouver coming to town this weekend to begin what should be another epic series, Byfuglien is moving back to forward to get his backside back in Luongo’s face. But is this automatically a good idea?
Examining the move of Byfuglien to forward presents a number of questions that likely won’t be answered until the puck drops on Saturday night. Who plays with Brent Sopel (arguably the Hawks’ MVP from round one) on the third defense pair? And where does Byfuglien fit into the forward rotation after spending almost six weeks as a defenseman?
The assumption would be that the Blackhawks would rearrange their lines again and that Bickell would move back to the bench. After all, the offense was solid the entire season with him in the AHL and Byfuglien on the third and fourth lines, so it’s a natural move. However, if practices in the middle of the week are any indication, it appears that Bickell will stay with Kane and Toews and that Byfuglien will replace Burish on the fourth line.
The other question, who skates with Sopel, is harder to answer. Nick Boynton hasn’t played a lot for the Hawks, but Jordan Hendry had some issues in the first series. Considering the nature of the relationship between the Blackhawks and Canucks, and in light of Hendry’s struggles, Boynton’s more physical style of play might be more appropriate move. But Hendry’s full season of experience with the team is a strong point of consideration; having familiar lines on the ice will be more important against the potent Canucks offense than it was against Nashville.
The Predators cashed in on terrible, stupid mistakes by the Hawks throughout the series and don’t have anyone on their roster that’s anywhere near the class of player that Ryan Kesler or Mikael Samuelsson are, much less Daniel or Henrik Sedin.
Certainly having Campbell back near or at 100 percent will have a significant role in the team’s decision on the third line, and Sopel stepped up his game and played heavy minutes against Nashville as well. The Hawks can’t skate only five defensemen, but they likely won’t use whomever is paired with Sopel more than 12 or 14 minutes.
The changes Quenneville made against Nashville worked incredibly well, but moving Byfuglien back to forward makes sense with Campbell coming back and the history of success Byfuglien has against Luongo. How these new changes effect the team’s play in Game One will have a huge impact on the dynamics of this series.