Stanley Cup champions
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Coach Joel Quenneville settled into the postgame press conference Monday, a grin set firmly on his face.
The Blackhawks had just won another Stanley Cup, his second as head coach – he has another as an assistant. - And as much as it obviously comes down to the talent on the ice, Quenneville’s decisions in lining up that talent were pivotal.
For the successful coaches, it comes down to pushing the right buttons, finding the right chemistry. With few exceptions, Quenneville did that this season. Some decisions were just rolls of the dice, others were more from the gut. But one way or another, they worked and they’re why the Blackhawks have won their second Cup in the past four seasons.
“Joel is the ultimate winner,” team president John McDonough said minutes after the Blackhawks scored twice in 17 seconds to beat the Boston Bruins in Game 6. “Joel is going to be a Hall of Fame coach, he’s one of the winningest coaches in the NHL. We’re fortunate he’s a Chicago Blackhawk.”
Quenneville isn’t one to talk about himself. For him, it’s always been about the players: he’s got the ideas, but they ultimately have to buy into them, embrace them. There are times when watching a Quenneville-led team can be interesting. He can juggle lines like circus talent. But it’s hard to argue with the end results.
“That’s the strength of an experienced coach. You see it in those pressure situations and I have all the confidence in Joel to orchestrate things and not over -or underreact,” general manager Stan Bowman said. “Sometimes you have to find a way to get things going, and sometimes that requires change. But that’s the value of having a guy like Joel who’s been through a lot of situations. We talk about a lot of things as a group: there’s no need to panic at that point because you still have a job to do and you still have to make some adjustments. We have a lot of confidence in our coaches to make those adjustments.”
Here are a few of Quenneville’s better adjustments this season:
Michael Frolik and Marcus Kruger: penalty-kill aficionados.
Quenneville admits this was one of those roll-the-dice decisions. Frolik and Kruger already established themselves as hard-working players, but they hadn’t found their true niche with this team. They have now. Whether the two were on board with it from the start or were surprised, they both embraced the new role. Frolik, teammates say, would get a grin on his face on penalty kills because he loved the challenge and the extra ice time. The penalty kill was much improved for several reasons, and these two taking to it was a big one.
Duncan, Brent, you two know each other…
Brent Seabrook was struggling through the early postseason. His game was off and his minutes were down. So Quenneville went with the tried and true, putting Seabrook back with longtime defensive partner Duncan Keith. Seabrook’s game elevation was noticeable as soon as they were reunited. Keith was tremendous himself, especially in the waning games of the Stanley Cup Final.
Stars align again.
When the offense struggles, put your best offensive weapons together. When Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane were put on the same line, the scoring fireworks flew again. It started in the Western Conference Final series against the Los Angeles Kings and wrapped against the Bruins. The chemistry between the two is tough to beat; and while Quenneville mistakenly split them up to start the Cup final, he soon realized the error of his ways.
Andrew Shaw to center.
Shaw had played a little center in Rockford during the lockout. But when Quenneville decided to have him center the Blackhawks’ third line, it seemed a reach. Shaw did just fine in the role and the line of he, Bryan Bickell and Viktor Stalberg were a strong one throughout the season. Shaw had different linemates in the postseason, but his scrappy work at that spot earned him high marks.
Faith in ‘Zus:
When Michal Handzus was acquired at the trade deadline, it was for center depth purposes; like deeper-down-the-lines purposes. Handzus as second-line center wasn’t really in the plan. But when Quenneville tried the veteran there, something clicked. Handzus had chemistry, especially with Patrick Sharp, whom he played with in Philadelphia years ago.
See, there really is a point to all that line tinkering.