Ah, the Chicago Blackhawks and their changing lines: we’ve seen them often, haven’t we? Well, we’ve seen them more this season because they rolled from start to finish last season, but you get our point.
With the Blackhawks beginning their first-round series against the St. Louis Blues on Thursday, the lines were altered once again. How long will these lines last? You know the drill, kids: they last as long as they’re successful. But to start, at least, coach Joel Quenneville was looking to spread the talent through the four.
So let’s change things up a bit and look at each combination, shall we? Yes, we enter this knowing it could change five minutes into Game 1. We’ll risk it:
Kris Versteeg-Jonathan Toews-Brandon Saad
It’s not a surprise to see Saad on the top line; he was stellar there last season and his and Toews’ games compliment each other. Versteeg played some with Toews earlier this season and looked solid in that role. Perhaps this is a good way to spark both wingers. Saad struggled coming off his upper-body injury and Versteeg needs to be more consistent. Quenneville seems to be thinking the same.
“(Saad) has played with Johnny a lot the last couple years. Steeger, as well, has played in some big situations. We’ll see how that all works out,” Quenneville said. “They certainly have the capability of working well together. That line looked pretty good together.”
Patrick Sharp-Michal Handzus-Marian Hossa
Oh, yes, I can hear Twitter tweeting now: Why is Handzus back at second-line center for the postseason? Because he thrived there last postseason and until it shows it’s broken at this time of year — repeat, at this time of year — Quenneville ain’t fixing it. These three also had chemistry last postseason. Asked about Handzus during the Los Angeles series, Sharp was glowing; the two had played together years ago in Philadelphia. Handzus and Hossa also clicked. Obviously this is a year later and Handzus had a rougher regular season. But this is the posteason, and Quenneville is looking to see if this group can click again.
Bryan Bickell-Andrew Shaw-Patrick Kane
Yeah, this one looks interesting, doesn’t it? Likely, one big reason these three are together is to give Kane some protection. Kane is coming off a left-knee injury that cost him the last month of the regular season. We all know what the St. Louis Blues bring, especially against a team’s top players. They’re going to try to hit Kane, and hit him as much as possible. This way, there are two buffers. Take this into consideration, too: Kane’s speed right now. He’s wearing a brace on that knee, and is still adjusting to it. He’s skating well, yes; but it may take him some time to be completely up to game speed. Quenneville, ultimately, likes the mix.
“Yeah, I thought all the lines have comparable ingredients with the ability to score and play without the puck as well,” Quenneville said.
Brandon Bollig-Marcus Kruger-Ben Smith
We finish with the line that’s been split the least this season. Of the three, Kruger has the most postseason experience; the guy became a big defensive-minded/special-teams asset for the Blackhawks during that Cup run. Bollig and Smith have played some in the playoffs, and we all remember Smith’s postseason debut against Vancouver in 2011. But this is about familiarity: these guys know their role and have done a solid job at it all season. So together, they remain.