Hoge: Quenneville Balances Lines In Preparation For Blues
By Adam Hoge-
CHICAGO (CBS) — With everyone available going into the playoffs, Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville shook up the lines in practice Tuesday, giving his team a new look for its first-round series against the St. Louis Blues.
Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews both went through their first full practice since suffering their respective injuries last month, and while Toews resumed his familiar spot centering the top line, Kane found himself on the third line with Bryan Bickell and Andrew Shaw.
“I thought the lines all have comparable ingredients to be able to score and to play without the puck as well,” Quenneville said after practice. “(Kane and Bickell) had a lot of lines together in the playoffs last year. We can fluctuate with centers as well, but (Kane) and Bicks were together a lot last year in the playoffs.”
If that’s the way the lines are rolled out Thursday night in St. Louis, Bickell and Shaw will provide some protection for Kane, who is coming off an apparent knee injury and hasn’t played since March 19. He missed 12 games.
“Just open up the ice for him,” Bickell said. “I know Shaw and I are two of the more physical guys on the team, to give (Kane) more space and know that we’re behind if it does get chippy. But we just need to play our game. I’m sure everyone is going to get hit.”
Getting hit is something the Hawks are prepared for as they get ready for the Blues’ physical style of play, but they are intent on playing their own way.
“Sometimes you go into these series and you think a little too much about the physical play or what’s going to happen and it throws you off,” Kane said. “So I think we just need to play the way we know how to play and not worry about all that other stuff — whether it happens after the whistle or during the play.”
Kane said he thought the Blackhawks got caught up in that during the first two games against Zdeno Chara and the Bruins in last year’s Stanley Cup Final, but he likes the balance of Tuesday’s lines, which maintain some physicality while also allowing them to play their own style.
“Playing with (Bickell and Shaw), you want to make sure you’re matching their work ethic because they’re always going to be working hard,” Kane said.
Here’s a full look at the Blackhawks’ forward lines in Tuesday’s practice:
Kris Versteeg — Jonathan Toews — Brandon Saad
Patrick Sharp — Michal Handzus — Marian Hossa
Bryan Bickell — Andrew Shaw — Patrick Kane
Brandon Bollig — Marcus Kruger — Ben Smith
Forwards Jeremy Morin, Peter Regin and Joakim Nordstrom wore the white sweaters in practice Tuesday, an indication that they will be healthy scratches in St. Louis.
Morin has played well recently (four goals and two assists in his last six games), but with Kane and Toews returning, someone had to fall out of the lineup. Quenneville could have opted to use Morin, 22, over Michael Handzus, 37, while moving Ben Smith to center, but it’s not surprising he opted to go with the veteran who played a big role in the Blackhawks’ run to the Stanley Cup last year.
Morin said he gained some confidence at the end of the regular season, and he’s just happy to be with the team in what will be his first NHL playoff run.
“If my name gets called, I’ll definitely be ready to play and bring some energy,” he said.
– The Blackhawks’ first power-play unit consisted of Sharp and Duncan Keith at the points with Shaw, Toews and Kane up front. The second unit had Nick Leddy and Brent Seabrook at the points with Saad, Versteeg and Hossa up front.
– Handzus took a puck to the face early in practice and left briefly before returning to the ice. He’s fine.
– Tuesday’s practice may have been the longest of the season and will probably stay that way. Quenneville is well aware of the toll a long series against the Blues could take and will likely manage rest carefully the rest of the way. The Blackhawks are expected to skate briefly Wednesday before leaving for St. Louis.
From St. Louis
Blues forwards T.J. Oshie and Vladimir Tarasenko practiced Tuesday and are awaiting final clearance to play Thursday. Oshie was out after a brutal hit against the Wild last week, while Tarasenko has been out since mid-March following hand surgery.
Both players’ statuses were in doubt this week, but Quenneville is preparing his team as if they are playing.
“I anticipate all their guys playing,” he said. “That’s our approach.”
Adam Hoge covers the Bears for CBSChicago.com and is a frequent contributor to 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @AdamHoge.