Should Joel Quenneville Change the Blackhawks’ Lines for Game Three?

Should Quenneville get these two guys away from Kane & Toews?

It has been two games of the Stanley Cup Finals and the Chicago Blackhawks have won both.

But Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane are both still searching for their first point of the series. Dustin Byfuglien has the only point on the Blackhawks’ top line, an assist to Ben Eager on the game-winning goal in Game Two after Quenneville put Eager into Kane’s spot off the faceoff following Marian Hossa’s goal.

Throughout these playoffs, Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville has been a master manipulator of his lineup to maximize matchups this spring. Of course he’s looked like a genius for putting Dave Bolland, suddenly a shutdown center, against the top scoring lines in each of the last three series, but every subtle move he’s made so far has worked to perfection. The Hawks have confused, frustrated and, ultimately, defeated the Canucks and Sharks by playing perfect matchups and are starting to work the same magic against Philadelphia.

So, as the Hawks head to Game Three, should Quenneville mix up the lineup again to get Kane and Toews on the board?

The biggest reason to split up the top line would be to force Flyers coach Peter Laviolette to make a decision: does Chris Pronger play man-against-man versus Byfuglien, or does he play against two of the Blackhawks’ best skill players in Toews and Kane? That is precisely the decision-forcing movement that Quenneville has used throughout the postseason to maximize his roster’s depth to win games.

Pronger has been effective against Byfuglien (cough… crosscheck… cough), and has been able to break up a number of rushes from Kane and Toews. You can question the ethics and legality of Pronger’s approach, but you cannot question his effectiveness.

If the Blackhawks wanted to make a move, they could do it in Game Three. Considering how effective Tomas Kopecky has been in the first two games of the series, a possibility putting him with Hossa’s line wouldn’t hurt the productivity of that line. That would allow Quenneville to bump Troy Brouwer, still physical and also playing effective hockey, up to the top line where he was effective for most of the season.

Moving Byfuglien to the checking line with Bolland and Versteeg wouldn’t be a terrible move, either; that’s where he spent a big part of the regular season.

The argument against moving Byfuglien away from Toews and Kane (and, in theory, taking Pronger with him) would be that the Flyers are playing into the Blackhawks’ hands by loading up against the top line.

Pronger is playing between 27-32 minutes a night in the postseason. If he’s spending 20 of those against the Hawks’ top line, he’s only spending seven to 10 of the 40 remaining minutes against the Blackhawks’ secondary lines. Looking at the box scores from the first two games of the series, in which just one of the Hawks’ eight goals have come from the to line* (again, Eager’s was technically on the top line), the Blackhawks depth is creating mismatches all over the ice for the other Flyers’ defensemen.

So the question to Quenneville is if he’s comfortable with the way the matchups are playing, and if the Hawks young stars are comfortable playing a secondary role in the series. Toews, Kane and Byfuglien could continue to struggle against the Flyers top defensive pair but their struggles could ultimately lead the Blackhawks to the Stanley Cup.

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7 Responses to Should Joel Quenneville Change the Blackhawks’ Lines for Game Three?

  1. Cory says:

    I don’t think it matters since Quennvile was the one making the changes based on Carcillo last night. Laviolette can keep Pronger right were he is and force Joe to keep Duncs and Seabs off the ice while that hideous mustache is on the ice. I know Pronger and Carcillo play different positions, but it was still an effective way to control part of the game on the road. By the way, could Carcillo be less intimidating these days? For the first 20 minutes the guy was just embarrassing himself out there.

  2. George Mohoi says:

    The question should be will Byfuglien be as effective without Toews and Kane? I feel that the Flyers are playing right into the Blackhawks hands. By dedicating themselves (The Flyers) to stopping our top line, they are letting our 2nd, 3rd, and 4th lines beat them. The Hawks probably have more depth than any team Philly has faced in the playoffs so far. Yeah it stinks that our best line has little to show points wise so far. But they eventually will score. Winning the Cup by whatever means it takes is more important.

  3. Niels says:

    Its a team game. If the Hawks can occupy 20min of Prongers time watching Toews/Kane/Buff why wouldn’t we? The Flyers have no answer for the other 2 scoring lines (one of which is considered a checking line with Bolland). The team that needs to make changes in matchups is the Flyers. Who do you try to stop?

  4. Jeff says:

    Tab you pose interesting questions. Q has definitely been out-coaching every team we have faced save the Preds. Do I think a move will be made……no. The top line has been getting chances, a lot of pucks have missed the net. Especially from Kane. With Towes, who looked much better in game 2, he will not allow his line to go scoreless. Look for some in-game changes to be made as Q sees how the game is progressing and how effective the top line is….but no, not an officially changed top line to start the game imo.
    Kane has arguably been our worst player so far this series. He will improve. Oh, and when can you all of a sudden crosscheck a guy in front of the net. Old school chopping…….

  5. Greg says:

    This is interesting. Pronger playing 27-32 minutes also tells me that the Flyer’s have absolutely no faith in anyone else to mind over the Blackhawk’s front line. Philly’s front line hasn’t exactly played lights out either. That bodes poorly for the team with less depth that will get worse as the series progresses. Quenneville knows what he’s doing.

  6. TOM COTNER says:

    WELL, I HATE USING THE AGE OLD CLICHE, but it really is true that your best players have to be your best players. Point production from the 2nd-4th lines are important and neccessary, BUT our 1st line of KANER-TOEWS-BUFF absolutely have to get untracked and get more shots on goal in rapid fashion.

    For anyone who is interested, the FLYER fans at CSNPHILLY.COM are ripping BEN EAGER a new one, commenting on how they thought he played for them, while a FLYER. IT’S NOT PRETTY !!! They are all steadfast in having PRONGER screen out NIEMI, but as I indicated in my own comment, we should be using BUFF DADDY ( GAWD, I HATE THAT NAME ) to screen out MICHAEL LEIGHTON, as he did to LUONGO. R.L. is a better goalie than M.L.; and if BUFF can control him, then doing so to M.L. should be as easy or easier.

  7. Cory says:

    I’m sure they hated Ben Eager back then, Bullshit. They’ll say they hated Pronger if he ever leaves.

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