It’s always been Joel Quenneville’s nuclear option. Whenever the Blackhawks had been struggling to score, or trailing late in a game, he’d put Patrick Kane on the same line as Jonathan Toews to take advantage of their natural chemistry and spark the offense.
Now, he’s hoping splitting them up will have the same effect.
After scoring three goals or fewer in six straight games, and failing to score in the third period of any of them, Quenneville shook up his lines Friday ahead of Saturday’s home game against Dave Bolland and the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Toews and Kane, who’ve been playing together on the top line since the Stanley Cup Final, will now be spread out over the top two lines — Toews with Brandon Saad and Marian Hossa, Kane with Patrick Sharp and Michal Handzus.
“It gives the other team a lot to be concerned with,” Quenneville said. “Who do you want to check? Who do you want to play whom against?”
Quenneville has been tweaking the lines during games, but this is the first wholesale changes he’s made. His third line had Marcus Kruger centering Bryan Bickell and Andrew Shaw, and the fourth line had Brandon Pirri centering Brandon Bollig and Joakim Nordstrom.
“Last game, we were a little flat it seemed,” Saad said. “Shaking things up might help.”
Following Thursday night’s shootout loss to St. Louis, in which the Hawks generated very little offense (and no goals) over the final two periods, Quenneville said, “I don’t like coaching offense.” He clarified that on Friday, saying that with the talent level the Hawks have, he doesn’t want to limit his players’ creative freedom.
“Let them go play,” he said. “There’s a certain rhyme or reason to what we want to do, and as a team we have a certain responsibility where we want to be without the puck. But we let them have that freedom, where the creativity is their game, and let them go. There’s certain things we try to encourage when we’re doing that. But that freedom offensively is tough to defend, knowing the opposition doesn’t really know what you’re doing, if you’re just going on instincts.”
As for the Hawks themselves, they feel the goals will come, that it’s only a matter of time.
“We don’t see it as a problem,” Toews said. “We’ve got a lot of talent in this locker room, so nothing’s going to change there. Scoring just comes from confidence, it comes from getting the results you want and seeing the puck go in. When that happens, you kind of build off it. When you score a goal in a game, you definitely feel the energy the shift after and you feel you can play loose and just let things happen. When that’s starts happening a little more naturally, I think the rest of our game will come along, too.”