Several items have been part of the Blackhawks’ postseason success. Having third and fourth lines they can count on is one of them.
In the early games of this postseason, however, that’s been a problem. The Blackhawks haven’t been able to get their four-line rotation going as they’ve relied heavily on their top two lines. Part of that is because those top six have had great scoring opportunities. The other side of that is, the bottom six isn’t what it's been in the past.
“I think we could be better,” Andrew Shaw said. “We need some secondary scoring. You can’t rely on the top two lines to do all the scoring to be successful in the playoffs. You need everyone contributing. I think everyone needs to pick it up a little bit.”
Yes, but it goes beyond scoring. The top two lines, despite their great chances, aren’t doing a whole heck of a lot of scoring right now, either. Goals have been at a premium for both teams. It’s more about minutes, about taking the load off those top two lines, about having third and fourth lines the Blackhawks can rely on in critical situations.
They’ve certainly had that in the past. The fourth line of Andrew Desjardins, Marcus Kruger and Shaw was reliable for coach Joel Quenneville last season. It wasn’t unusual for Quenneville to throw those three into a crucial situation, including at the end of one-goal games to shut down opponents. The third line went through more changes, including that infamous game in which Teuvo Teravainen and Antoine Vermette were scratched. But it still played good minutes and eventually, when Teravainen and Vermette cameback into the lineup, they scored important goals.
Again, it’s early in the postseason, but the Blackhawks’ biggest problem with their third and fourth lines is they’ve had rotating personnel. Brandon Mashinter’s been in and out of the lineup. So has Richard Panik. Dale Weise finally made his Blackhawks postseason debut in Game 3.
“Yeah we’ve mixed them around a little bit, probably because they haven’t either had the zone time or production or that consistency we look for,” Quenneville said. “I think we measure performance sometimes on maybe not just what you create but what you give up. We’re looking, probably, for a little bit more there.”
Also, some of last year’s best players on those lines are struggling. Desjardins was a scratch on Sunday afternoon, and Teravainen has yet to show what he did last spring.
Regardless of the third- and fourth-line personnel, they haven’t played much. Shaw and Kruger have, given their special-teams responsibilities. But others have averaged anywhere from six to eight minutes. When the Blackhawks faced the Nashville Predators in the first round last season, third- and fourth-liners were playing at least 10 minutes a game (in both first rounds, we’re looking at games that ended in regulation).
The Blackhawks have thrived when they’ve had a strong four-line rotation. Right now, they don’t have it because their third and fourth lines haven’t been consistent, in personnel or minutes. It’s something they need to find again soon.
“That four-line rotation, it’s been sporadic. It’s been good in stretches, particularly in second periods. Other periods, a little bit unpredictable,” Quenneville said. “We’ll keep trying to get it. We feel to be a good team or a great team, we have to get that four-line rotation.”