Quenneville splits up Toews and Kane to jumpstart struggling Blackhawks offenseContinue reading.
Patrick Kane on third line with Bickell, Shaw as Blackhawks’ Quenneville opts for balance vs. Blues
Patrick Kane returned to practice on the Blackhawks’ third line with center Andrew Shaw and winger Bryan Bickell on Tuesday. With no questions asked.
‘’That’s what the coaches are here for, to set some lineups,’’ said Kane, who missed the final 12 games of the regular season with a knee injury. ‘’All of us have played with each other at one point or another. That’s one of the strengths of our team — the depth and how many players can play in different situations.
‘’It seems like we’ve got a lot of balance throughout our lineup right now. I’m sure that’s what they’re looking for.
Indeed, balance seemed to be the key factor as coach Joel Quenneville — a fully loaded roster at his disposal for the first time in four weeks — unveiled his probable playoff lineup for the first-round Stanley Cup playoff series against the Blues. With Brandon Saad-Jonathan Toews-Kris Versteeg; Patrick Sharp-Michal Handzus-Marian Hossa; Bickell-Shaw-Kane and Brandon Bollig-Marcus Kruger-Ben Smith, Quenneville has each of his three top scorers — Sharp (78 points), Kane (69) and Toews (68) — on a separate line.
‘’All the lines have comparable ingredients, with the ability to score and play without the puck,’’ Quenneville said Tuesday after the Hawks practiced at Johnny’s West. They had a lot of lines together in the playoffs last year, can fluctuate with centers as well. But [Kane] and Bicks were together a lot last year in the playoffs.’’
Quenneville has earned the trust of his players when it comes to line tinkering — especially Kane, who has been involved in defining lineup changes that won both Stanley Cups. In 2010, Quenneville split up Kane and Toews for the final two games of the Final against Chris Pronger and the Philadelphia Flyers. The Blackhawks won both games, 7-4 and 4-3 in overtime (on Kane’s goal) to win the series, 4-2.
In 2013, Quenneville moved a struggling Kane onto Toews’ line with the Hawks trailing the Los Angeles Kings 2-1 late in the second period of Game 4 of the Western Conference Final. Kane, who had not scored in seven games, scored the tying goal late in the second period and ended up scoring seven goals and nine points in eight games to win the Conn Smythe Trophy for the Cup-winning Hawks.
Saad’s top-line assignment with Toews is a shot at sparking the talented 21-year-old forward, who slumped at the end of the regular season and was a healthy scratch against the Blues on April 6.
‘’We feel he’s capable of playing against top guys,’’ Quenneville said. ‘’He’s played with Jonny a lot the last couple of years. [Versteeg] has played in some big situations. Certainly has the capability of working well together. He did play a little bit there with [Toews and Saad] recently. That line look pretty good together.’’
Quenneville is counting on the veteran savvy and playoff experience of Handzus as his second-line center. Handzus had four goals and 16 points in 59 games this season.
‘’He’s useful in a lot of ways — predictable, dependable, ’’ Quenneville said of Handzus. ‘’I thought last year he was a big factor … whoever he’s played with, that line was getting the job one for us ad that’s what we’re looking for now.’’
The odd-man out appears to be 22-year-old forward Jeremy Morin, who scored four goals in the final five regular-season games. He’s likely to be called upon at the first sign of goal-scoring struggles.
‘’Mo at the end of the year gave us some energy,’’ Quenneville said. ‘’He scored some big goals. We’ll see how it works out.’’