It was reported Tuesday Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville is mixing up his top six forwards after a two-game experiment with a loaded No. 1 line.
Marian Hossa is back in action and started well with two goals in his first game back from off-season shoulder surgery. Quenneville had Hossa playing with young stars Jonathan Toews down the middle and Patrick Kane on the left wing.
But after two subsequent games Quenneville considered to be less than inspiring 5-on-5, Kane has been dropped – although it’s not a demotion – to the second line with Kris Versteeg at center and Dustin Byfuglien; Patrick Sharp is now lining up with Toews and Hossa.
November was Good News Month for the fast-rising Hawks. Toews returned from a concussion, Hossa returned from surgery and goalie Cristobal Huet returned to form. Oh, and the team went 8-2-2 for the month, including two wins over conference top dog San Jose and one over Northwest Division powerhouse Calgary. Plus, the final six games of the month were all played on the road.
The run of victories put some distance between the Hawks and struggling division rivals Detroit and Columbus, and staved off the surging Nashville Predators, who are currently four points back after playing one more game.
Combine all of that with the news Toews, Kane and likely Team Canada defenseman Duncan Keith are ready to sign long-term contract extensions and it’s all good in the hood for hockey fans in the Windy City.
And this line shuffle is nothing more than more of the same for Hawks fans.
The best way to win in the NHL these days is with a balanced attack. Sure, having all your big guns on the ice at the same time looks good and often means big things for those big three. But if you want to give other teams fits, you have to come at them in waves. Don’t believe me? Check out the two teams that have met for the Stanley Cup the past two seasons.
Yes, Detroit could use Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg on the same line – and they have at times in the past. And, yes, Pittsburgh could employ Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin together more often. But why would they?
Those four are all at least point-per-game players without spending an inordinate amount of time playing together 5-on-5. They make those around them better, which makes their teams better. When the chips are down, Wings coach Mike Babcock or Pens counterpart Dan Bylsma will put their big guns on the ice together, but otherwise, the more dangerous the lines, the merrier.
Kane seems to have taken the move well, telling the Chicago Sun-Times, “I’m happy wherever they put me.” And he should be. With Versteeg and Byfuglien, Kane is without a doubt The Man on that line. And, since he likes to carry the puck and make plays, there’s no worry of him being in too much control of the disc over all-star linemates.
Versteeg and Byfuglien have also had statistically disappointing starts to the campaign. But with Kane feathering passes, big Byfuglien going to the net and Versteeg buzzing around, that can change. Give them a few games to develop some lasting chemistry and Chicago will have two bona fide scoring lines for the first time all season.
When that happens, watch out Western Conference foes; the Hawks will be true contenders.
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