When the puck dropped on Game 3 in Boston last night, Chicago’s captain and the NHL’s 2013 Selke Award winner Jonathan Toews took the draw for the road Blackhawks. He’s the same dude who tallied 48 points in 47 regular season games, including 23 goals. The same guy who earned Hart Trophy votes. The same guy who won nearly 60% of his regular season draws, second best in the league. The same guy who…is centering Marcus Kruger and Michael Frolik? Are you f*****g kidding me?
Last night I tweeted about it without putting much thought into it, and missed the point entirely. I added some brackey-y stuff for clarity, but the tweet read: ”(Is) Toews being demoted, (is Quenneville) trying get B’s to drop matchup on his line, or (are they just) outta options sans Hossa? Kruger-Frolik? Yikes.”
Anyway, it’s pretty clear in hindsight that the idea was to trade Toews’ minutes as a wash versus Chara’s (anything gained is a bonus), and leave the rest of the talent to try to beat the Bruins.
Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong. This is a terrible strategy, if in fact it was his strategy as many people have speculated. It’s the coaching equivalent of being a perimeter player.
Creating goals is harder than limiting them, and the Bruins still have defensive juggernauts throughout their lineup that are capable of shutting down other players, like the previous Selke winner and runner-up this year who just so happens to be the guy Toews was behind in faceoff winning percentage in the regular season, Patrice Bergeron. His line as a whole can clamp down on another talented group.
The Bruins get reliable defensive play from everyone in their lineup, including those you wouldn’t suspect like Tyler Seguin (his defensive effort is actually quite impressive) and even Jaromir Jagr at this point. Not to mention guys like Kelly, Ference, Peverly, Boychuk, Paille and on and on.
The Chicago Blackhawks scored more goals than any team in the Western Conference this season, and were behind only the Pittsburgh Penguins in the league. They had the best goal differential of all 30 teams. They succeeded by being able to make skilled plays that other teams couldn’t. Their passing was impeccable, dizzying at times, yet here Joel Quenneville is neutering the team’s top player by giving him third and fourth liners to deal with and the unspoken assignment of being asked to do anything exceptional.
With Toews lack of success in the post-season so far – one goal and eight assists for nine points in 20 games – it’s like Quenneville gave up on him last night, and put the game in the hands of Patricks Kane and Sharp.
The Blackhawks undoubtedly missed surprise scratch Marian Hossa, who’s one of the league’s best players as far as I’m concerned. But in the absence of some of your elite talent, especially on the road, that’s the game you give the ball to your team’s leader and say “You’re running with this. We’re winning or losing on your shoulders tonight. This your chance to elevate your game and name, show us whatcha got.”
Later in the game Toews got a few shifts with Patrick Kane, but it was too little too late. Quenneville missed the chance to put his best players in a position to succeed, and the Blackhawks talent was wasted as a result.
I think Joel Quenneville is a good coach, so I don’t think we’ll see the Kruger-Toews-Frolik line in Game 4. But he burned a game by over-thinking things in Game 3.