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Joel Quenneville moved into second on the all-time list of NHL coaches as ranked by regular season victories earlier this season. He has of course led the Hawks to three Stanley Cups. So if you want to argue he can do no wrong, a part of me is inclined to agree.
But it seems as though during just about every playoff run at the helm of the Hawks, he has made a lineup decision or two that leave(s) me scratching my head. And it happened again yesterday as the Hawks fell behind the Blues 2-1 in their first-round playoff series with a 3-2 loss. My questions are as follows:
Surely it wasn't a complete coincidence the Blackhawks' penalty kill was pathetic (if they can't do better than two goals allowed in the Blues' first two power plays, their season will be over shortly) and Andrew Desjardins was a healthy scratch?
Did Coach Q feel some sort of compunction to play Tomas Fleischmann because the team had acquired him in a trade late in the season rather than playing Desjardins, who has proven to be a top performer when the Hawks are down a man? And Richard Panik (also acquired this year in a trade) was in the lineup instead of Desjardins why exactly?
The penalty kill failed but there was plenty more that went wrong for the Hawks, especially in the third period. Corey Crawford seemed on his way to not quite stealing a win (that can't happen when a goalie's team is outshooting its opponent by a half dozen) but certainly utilizing some larceny to keep the Hawks in front through the second period and into the third. ↓
But then a ridiculously lucky deflection and bounce led to the tying goal flying into the net over Crawford's glove hand. (I could hear meatball hockey fans everywhere saying "Haven't I always told them to just shoot the puck!") Patrik Berglund threw the puck at the net from just inside the Hawks' zone and saw it go off Michal Rozsival's leg and down off the ice before finding the back of the net. ↓
And then Patrick Kane botched it big time, flinging his stick toward the ceiling in a low-percentage effort to lift an opposing stick and steal a puck. He clipped Alex Pietrangelo in the face and drew blood. ↓
The Blues promptly scored on the first of the two minor penalties called against Kane for high sticking. ↓
It could have been even worse - the Hawks then had to kill the second power play. They managed to do so, their only successful kill of the game.
In the end, the Hawks offense came up short again, which raises another question: Will Quenneville try to jump-start things by changing the lines? My guess is yes, there will be some changes and I have to say that is another element of hockey that has at times left me befuddled.
Why is it accepted practice to change which centers are playing with which wingers when a team is struggling to score? I understand that there is significant pressure on a coach to make changes when things aren't going well, but how is it an improvement to go from lines where guys have been playing together for most of the season and have the best possible awareness of what their teammates will do when to a jumble of mixed up match-ups?
The Hawks have 48 hours to find some answers. My guess is Quenneville and his assistants will conclude that Sunday's loss mostly resulted from one-time factors. But will that be the right call? When a playoff series starts to feel as though it is getting away, no one can feel completely certain about anything.
One final note: Thanks again to the delightful NHL for the ridiculous 8:30 p.m. starting times for playoff games featuring two teams in the Central Time Zone. The Hawks and Blues are back at it in Chicago on Tuesday and St. Louis two days later and both games start at 8:30 so the league can set up doubleheaders with East Coast games starting at 6.
This would make sense if the NHL had a national fan base. It does not. (Just check the TV ratings for goodness sakes!) It is a regional league. What actually makes sense is to start the games at times that are most convenient for the fans in those teams' regions.
One last question: Why is the NHL so stupid about stuff like this?
Jim "Coach" Coffman welcomes your comments.