The Blackhawks’ unveiled their latest forward lines on Thursday, the response to the team struggling to find the same offense they had in their first two games of the season.
“I think we can be better with the puck, more comfortable with it,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “That way you can have the puck in the offensive zone instead of defending it on more shifts than we’d like. But we’ll see.”
And that’s really the point here. Whether the Blackhawks move players up and down the lines, keep lines the same for a while or switch them constantly, the way they play is ultimately what has to improve.
For grins, let’s look at a few of the notable changes:
— Alex DeBrincat gets a chance with the top line, joining Brandon Saad and Jonathan Toews. He’ll still be on the right side — keep in mind DeBrincat played on the left side during most of his time in the Ontario Hockey League.
“On the left I can open up for a one-timer right away. On the right I just gotta find space in the middle and try to have a quick release. That’s the biggest difference,” DeBrincat said.
— Richard Panik moves to the second line with Nick Schmaltz and Patrick Kane, so the line keeps a heavy hitter/net-driving player presence.
— John Hayden moves up to the third line, while Ryan Hartman goes to the fourth line. Breaking up the fourth line, arguably the Blackhawks’ best the last two games, is interesting. But Hayden has been strong from the start of the season and deserves a bump up. Is Hartman getting demoted for recent penalties? Hartman has five minors through the first 10 games this season; last season he had five minors in his first 33 games.
“With him, that’s an ongoing challenge, knowing the balance, the attention with the referees and the way the game’s being called,” Quenneville said. “You gotta be aware, and I think he knows the limitations and boundaries and scrutiny.”
But back to the Blackhawks’ overall game. From puck possession to zone time to shot opportunities, the Blackhawks aren’t getting enough. So no matter how things stack up among the lines, their usual strong suits have to return.
“We definitely need to switch up. Fresh ideas can be good. But to me, playing in the offensive zone, being relentless on the puck, bringing the puck to the net, (we have to) do all the little things better and score ugly goals,” Artem Anisimov said. “If you can make a play, make the play. If you have a lane to the net, bring the puck to the net.”
The Blackhawks gave these lines a solid chance. The changes could help stoke the offense, but no matter how you arrange the personnel, the Blackhawks have to get back to the game that’s always worked for them.
“We haven’t generated much 5-on-5,” Quenneville said. “We’d like to have some predictability for longer stretches but on a need basis, sometimes change can be good.”