Tommy Wingels (57) checks Minnesota’s Mikko Koivu into the boards during a game on Oct. 12. (AP Photo)

Uncharacteristically physical ‘energy line’ gives Hawks a boost

SHARE Uncharacteristically physical ‘energy line’ gives Hawks a boost
SHARE Uncharacteristically physical ‘energy line’ gives Hawks a boost

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Since Joel Quenneville took over as coach nine years ago this month, only one team in the NHL has delivered fewer hits than the Blackhawks: The Golden Knights.

Of course, the Knights have played 706 fewer games in that span.

The Hawks don’t hit, they get hit. They don’t chase the puck, they control the puck. That has been their modus operandi ever since Quenne-ville arrived, and it has helped them win three Stanley Cups. But the way the Predators pushed them around and ran them over in a first-round sweep last spring didn’t sit well with Quenneville and general manager Stan Bowman. They wanted the Hawks to be “harder to play against.” That meant being faster, yes. It also meant being a little meaner.

Enter what Quenneville has been calling his “energy line.”

Lance Bouma, Tommy Wingels and John Hayden have spent most of the season together, and they’ve been throwing their weight around. Wingels is averaging 3.8 hits per game, Hayden is averaging 3.6 and Bouma is averaging 2.8. The most physical regular on the Hawks last season was Richard Panik, who averaged just 1.8 hits while playing more minutes than Wingels, Hayden and Bouma have been.

The Hawks aren’t going to become the Kings all of a sudden — they lead the league in hits since 2008-09, doling out about 7,500 more than the Hawks have — but a well-timed hit can jar the puck loose and be just as effective as a quick stick. As long as the energy line isn’t racing around looking for trouble and getting out of position to smear a guy into the glass, there’s nothing wrong with being a little more physical.


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“There’s two sides of it,” Hayden said. “You definitely want the puck all game, and when you have the puck, you’re obviously not the ones hitting. But I think it does play a role and can wear teams down. A good balance serves its purpose.”

The Hawks’ fourth line has typically defied convention. For most depth-challenged teams, it’s three fringe players playing a fringe role. But in all three of the Hawks’ Cup runs, the fourth line has been a highly effective shutdown line, playing against some of the opponents’ top lines. In 2013, it was Marcus Kruger, Dave Bolland and Michael Frolik. And in 2015, it was Andrew Shaw, Kruger and Andrew Desjardins.

Tanner Kero was pegged as Kruger’s replacement at fourth-line center, but Wingels — a winger by trade — impressed Quenneville while Nick Schmaltz was injured and Kero bounced around. Thursday against the Oilers, Quenneville had Artem Anisimov on the fourth line in an effort to get him going. But the trio that Quenneville has been happiest with is the most physical one.

Bouma got a taste of life on a scoring line when he had Mikael Backlund as his center, helping him score 16 goals in the 2014-15 season. But he said the mentality is the same no matter where you are in the lineup.

“That year, it was just the same thing — you’re trying to be hard to play against and take advantage when you have a chance offensively,” Bouma said. “We want to be a line that’s hard to play against.”

They don’t fit the Hawks mold in general, or the Hawks’ fourth-line mold in particular. But while they haven’t scored yet, they’ve been generally effective at getting and keeping the puck by any means necessary. And whether they’re on a line together or not, the trio indeed makes the Hawks “harder to play against,” just as they’d hoped.

“None of us are trying to re-invent the wheel out there,” Wingels said. “We’ve been responsible defensively, and we’ve created some shifts in the offensive zone. We’re tough to play against. When other teams’ top ‘D’ pairs are out there, they know it’s going to be a hard shift for them physically, and I think we’ve created some energy.”

Follow me on Twitter @MarkLazerus.

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com

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