Blackhawks lineup changes surprise, raise questions after Game 3


Blackhawks lineup changes surprise, raise questions after Game 3

Coach Joel Quenneville hinted that there would be changes on Thursday night, giving his patented, “we’ll see” when asked about the lineup.

He wasn’t kidding, and the changes were surprising: Antoine Vermette and Teuvo Teravainen were out and Kris Versteeg and Joakim Nordstrom were in for Game 3 against the Anaheim Ducks. The game’s outcome wasn’t decided by the changes – please see that awful power play – but they certainly left one wondering why they were made.

Quenneville said he was looking for “fresh legs” when he put in Versteeg and Nordstrom, neither of whom had played since the first round against the Nashville Predators. It was an interesting turn of events following Game 2, a triple-overtime victory in Anaheim, given Quenneville rarely makes changes following a triumph. But there it was nonetheless.

“Steeger didn’t play for a long stretch and we wanted to get him back in there,” Quenneville said. “It was a tough day the other day with travel and we wanted to bring new guys in.”

[MORE: Ducks dominate third period again in postseason]

So did the changes have the desired effect?

“I thought we had a good start with that, good first period, energy,” he said. “The power play may have lost momentum. The second period they got it back and obviously scored a big one at the end.”

The changes did alter the lines; Andrew Shaw was moved to center the third line with Patrick Sharp and Versteeg, and Nordstrom was on the fourth line with Marcus Kruger and Andrew Desjardins.

Versteeg found out earlier Thursday he was playing in Game 3.

“The first two shifts it was like I was standing in the speedway,” said Versteeg, who played 13:31. “It was going pretty quick. Once the game progressed, I thought I settled in nicely. Obviously would have liked to tuck one away for the guys to help them out. All in all, I felt pretty good tonight.”

As we said, it’s surprising that Quenneville changed things after a victory. It was also strange to hear the “tired legs” reason. At Wednesday’s availability, Quenneville was asked about his top defensemen’s high minutes, and if he was concerned about the potential wear and tear to them.

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

“They just had 10 days off,” he said. “So I feel pretty good about it.”

Asked if Vermette and/or Teravainen were hurt, Quenneville said they were “fine.” Teravainen certainly seemed healthy on Thursday morning, when he participated in an optional skate and talked to the media following it. But is Vermette healthy? Maybe he is. But this is the postseason, when no one dares mention injuries.

We’ll find out more in the coming days. Will the Blackhawks go back to the lineup they had prior to Game 3? Quenneville said, “we’ll consider all our options.”

The lineup changes weren’t the reason why the Blackhawks lost on Thursday. But if both players are healthy, it also seems those lineup changes weren’t necessary.

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks hit road to face Blue Jackets

NBC Sports Chicago

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks hit road to face Blue Jackets

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Columbus Blue Jackets tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. One big reunion.

The Blackhawks will square off with the Blue Jackets for the first time since Oct. 7, which was the second game of the season. In that game, they won 5-1 led by Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Brandon Saad, each of whom scored a goal and added an assist.

Of course, that was the first game since the offseason trade that sent Artemi Panarin to Columbus and Saad back to Chicago, along with Anton Forsberg. Artem Anisimov, of course, was part of the original deal that sent Saad to Columbus in 2015, so there are a lot of emotional ties between the two teams.

Forsberg didn't get a chance to face the Blue Jackets in the first meeting, but there's a chance he will this time with it being the second of a back-to-back and Jean-Francois Berube getting the start in Friday's 3-1 win over San Jose.

2. Panarin and Kane bromance.

The emotions of a difficult break-up have probably died down by now, but Panarin and Kane gave us this moment at center ice during pregame warmups in their first game against each other and it hit Chicago right in the feels:

Panarin has spent enough time apart from Kane for people to realize how big of a star he is in his own right, leading the Blue Jackets in all three scoring categories: goals (17), assists (32) and points (49).

He hasn't gone more than three games this season without recording a point, and is looking to extend his point streak to four games, which would tie a season high.

3. Struggling Blue Jackets special teams.

The Blue Jackets got off to a great start but are barely clinging onto a wild card spot going into Saturday's game, and a big reason for that slide is their lack of success on special teams. Usually one can pick up the slack for the other, but they've been brutal in both departments.

The Blue Jackets are 0-for-9 on the power play in their past five games and are ranked 31st overall, converting on only 14.1 percent of their opportunities. They also have own the 27th-ranked penalty kill with a 76.3 percent success rate.

So if there's an area the Blackhawks can exploit, it's that. But, you know, still be mindful of that Russian winger's one-timer from the faceoff circle.

Jean-Francois Berube impressed in his first Blackhawks start


Jean-Francois Berube impressed in his first Blackhawks start

Jean-Francois Berube got his first start of the season on Friday night, and it couldn't have gone any better.

The 26-year-old goaltender stopped 42 of 43 shots, a career-high for him in saves, in the Blackhawks' 3-1 win over the San Jose Sharks at the United Center.

Since Corey Crawford went down with a head injury last December, the Blackhawks have been searching for consistency in the crease. 

The pair of Anton Forsberg and Jeff Glass — who was assigned to Rockford on Feb. 15 and replaced with Berube — have had their ups and downs since then. With the Blackhawks out of the playoff picture, Berube had an opportunity showcase his skills, and he didn't disappoint.

"We were very happy with him," said coach Joel Quenneville. "I thought he did a great job. He was comfortable. I thought he was very patient in his net. Absorbing a lot of pucks with people in front of him was good. Closed some gaps and got … of the top of the paint. Rebound control was effective. Nice response from a long absence."

Berube's last — and only — appearance with the Blackhawks prior to Friday's game came on Dec. 6, relieving Forsberg in a game against the Washington Capitals. He recorded 12 saves of 14 shots. 

When Crawford got injured, Berube was the primary candidate to become the team's backup goaltender. The only problem? He was injured too, so the Blackhawks promoted Glass.

"I didn't want to sit and think about it," Berube said of his injury. "At the same time, it was great for Glasser. He was one of those guys that probably deserved it earlier in his career and he finally got his chance. Sometimes you need a guy to go down to have your chance. So I was mostly happy for him.

On Friday night, he got his chance.

"You always want to have a good impression for your first game," Berube said. "I know what I can do at this level, so it was just a matter of getting the opportunity to play and showing people what I can do."

Celebrating his 22nd birthday, Nick Schmaltz also had a goal and an assist. Artem Anisimov scored an empty-netter.

"It's a lot more fun coming to the rink when you're winning, enjoying each other, playing well as a team," Schmaltz said of the Blackhawks' win, which have now won three of their last four games. "Hopefully we can keep that good energy and bring it to the rink every day, and build off of that.

"You never know where this team can go, a lot of great players, lots of guys that have had a lot of success. Hopefully we can continue to put together solid efforts."