Blackhawks finding balance on all four lines

Blackhawks finding balance on all four lines

When Joel Quenneville decided to reunite Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews on the top line, you knew it wasn't an ideal situation.

The Blackhawks only utilize that "nuclear option" during desperate times, and trailing the St. Louis Blues 3-1 in their first-round series qualified as one.

But pairing them together has often worked out in their favor, as it did towards the end of the 2015 Western Conference Final against the Anaheim Ducks and Stanley Cup Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

It's again reaping benefits for all four lines, which is a large reason why the Blackhawks have climbed back to even up the series 3-3.

"When we went to those lines, I thought we had balance," Quenneville told reporters Sunday. "I think that was what we were looking for. Putting Kaner and Tazer (together), we always find that's when we're in a real bad spot or tough spot. We tried that and we felt that we had more balance. With the way the lines turned out in the game, we liked the way we played."

Those in-game adjustments by Quenneville is what makes him of the best coaches in NHL history, and the Blackhawks continue to roll with and trust the changes without questioning them.

Marian Hossa and Andrew Ladd, both of whom are normally on the first line with Toews, were bumped to the third line with Marcus Kruger, but both of them have been around chess-master Quenneville long enough to know it's a tactic, not necessarily a demotion.

"Not at all," Hossa said. "I mean, you know we keep rolling four lines and quite honest, two nights ago, being on the third line I played more ice time than when I was on the first line. ... I'm glad to help the team, especially at my age, any way I can. I have defensive responsibilities, but Joel wants us to create something offensively too. So it's pretty much the same. My job didn't change."

While the double-overtime victory in Game 5 surely played a big part in those increased minutes, Hossa's right in a sense he's getting more ice time, as the new third line of Ladd, Kruger and Hossa finds itself out more against the line of Jaden Schwartz, Jori Lehtera and Vladimir Tarasenko, which has had its way against the Blackhawks this series.

That also opens up the first and second lines to produce more offensively, and it showed in Game 6. 

Kane, Toews and Andrew Shaw combined for one goal and three assists, while Richard Panik, who also saw time on the top line, registered a helper.

The Blackhawks are starting to come in waves, and the ability to change on the fly and gel quicky is what has helped the reigning Stanley Cup champions have so much success in the playoffs under Quenneville.

And it will be key to a Game 7 victory in St. Louis on Monday night.

"As you go along in a series, I think you start seeing your own teams, who's playing well, who's deserving of most ice time, who's playing in situations where they deserve more quality and quantity," Quenneville said. "That's part of how we make the alterations. In games we're looking for balance, we still think we need four lines to win.

"As we've gone along here, probably all year long, that's one area we didn't feel it was nailed. I like the progress we're seeing in the series right now. Probably the best we've had all year long so that's a positive sign right now. That's what we're looking for."

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Senators

NBC Sports Chicago

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Senators

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Ottawa Senators tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. Trade chips.

The Blackhawks have reached the point in their season where they have no choice but to become sellers before the Feb. 26 deadline, and we saw that when they traded Michal Kempny to the Washington Capitals on Monday for a conditional third-round pick in 2018. Tommy Wingels could also be an attractive piece for a team looking to fill out their depth.

The Senators will definitely be sellers, and wow do they have some names potentially on the market that can fetch large returns: Derrick Brassard and Mike Hoffman are two players who log top-six minutes on a nightly basis and also have term left on their contract, which is great for teams looking to load up for this year and beyond.

The biggest name to watch, probably in the league altogether, is Erik Karlsson, who could be on the move if a team offers a big enough package for the Senators to pull the trigger now as opposed to in the offseason if they feel him re-signing is a long shot. He was the best defenseman last season, and if a team steps up to get him, they're getting two possible postseason runs out of him.

2. Artem Anisimov's experiment at left wing not working.

Joel Quenneville has tried rekindling the magic between Anisimov, Nick Schmaltz and Patrick Kane as of late, only this time Anisimov is playing the wing and it just hasn't been very effective. The trio was on the ice for each of the two 5-on-5 goals the Kings scored on Monday, and Anisimov completely lost his man on the first one.

It's important to establish a consistent left winger for Schmaltz and Kane, and maybe putting Alex DeBrincat up there is something you consider going forward as part of a long-term solution. Move Anisimov back down as the third-line center to play in more of a defensive role and continue using his big body on power plays for his offensive abilities might be the best bet.

3. Win the special teams battle.

In their last meeting against Ottawa on Jan. 9, the Blackhawks went 4-for-6 on the power play and 4-on-4 on the penalty kill in an 8-2 win. And those are two areas to look out for again.

The Senators own the 28th-ranked power play with a 16.1 percent success rate and 29th-ranked penalty kill with a 74.5 percent success rate. Get ready for another offensive outburst?

Podcast: Which Blackhawks could be on the move before trade deadline?


Podcast: Which Blackhawks could be on the move before trade deadline?

On the latest Blackhawks Talk Podcast, Adam Burish and Pat Boyle discuss which Blackhawks could be on the trading block and what players are building blocks for the Hawks future.

Burish also shares a couple memorable trade deadline days and his “near” return to the Blackhawks in 2012. Plus, he makes his bold trade deadline prediction for the Hawks.

Listen to the full Blackhawks Talk Podcast right here: