2010 Stanley Cup Finals, Game 5: How to get Toews and Kane productive

Kane2.jpgChicago Blackhawks vs. Philadelphia Flyers

Series tied 1-1

8:00 p.m.
EDT, Sunday, June 6, 2010

Live on NBC

Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane have one heck of a frustrating
series.

This was supposed to be the moment they shined, this what they have
so worked so hard to achieve. They are still very, very young but there
is no guarantee that they’ll ever have this chance again. That they are
here now and playing the worst they’ve played in a very long time is
extremely surprising.

It’s not just a matter of Toews and Kane under-performing. You have
to give credit to the Philadelphia Flyers for doing their part to stop
the high powered offense of the Hawks’ top line; what was supposed to be
a legendary matchup has fizzled into a one-way domination.

You have to put some of the blame squarely on Joel Quenneville’s
shoulders as well, as he’s stubbornly stuck with the top line all
through their struggles of three and a half games. He only resorted to
changing up things up when the Hawks were backed up against the wall,
facing a 4-1 deficit late in the third period of Game 4.

I can understand Joel Quenneville’s stubbornness.

After all, they’ve been so successful all season and for the entire
run of the playoffs and there’s no way that Patrick Kane and Jonathan
Toews would continue to struggle together. Yet for the first three
games, the top line of Kane, Toews and Byfuglien weren’t just
ineffective — they were downright bad.

Of course, Quenneville wasn’t very revealing about his thought
process behind the changes in the third period.

“Sometimes you try to mix it up a little bit, whether it’s a matchup
or get some energy going in the lines,” Quenneville said. “We didn’t
like some things. Sometimes you try some things. I thought the energy
came.”

Quenneville started off by taking Dustin Byfuglien of the top line
with Toews and Kane and placing him on a bigger line with Andrew Ladd.
Once the Hawks started to roll in the third period, and once they were
able to put together three effective lines, then the Flyers started to
have all sorts of issues with the Hawks’ attack.

Until the third period, the Blackhawks had become a very stale
offensive team. Sure, there were goals being scored but this was far
from the Chicago team we thought we knew. A lot of the credit has to go
to the Flyers, who have done a tremendous job of shutting down the top
line of the Blackhawks all series long.

“[Carle and Pronger] have done a tremendous job, not just tonight
and not just this series but throughout the playoffs,” Danny Briere
said after Game 4 when asked about the Flyers defensemen. “Every team
we’ve played they’ve seemed to shut down their top guys. But we can’t
forget that Chicago also has a lot of firepower.”

Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp were easily the best forwards on the
ice for the Blackhawks tonight, and Quenneville was able to start
getting them space as well when he changed the lines up and spread out
the attack a bit. With Pronger and Matt Carle doing such a good job of
shutting down Toews, the Flyers were also able to take adavantage of
their shortcomings on defense.

It’s incredibly odd to keep writing this, but the player that was so
good for the Hawks in the first three rounds and the player many
considered the favorite for the Conn Smythe has struggled mightily
against the Flyers. Kane and Toews were a combined minus-6 last night,
and it wasn’t until Quenneville finally broke them up that we started to
see some effectiveness from the two.

So the question is, will we see these changes continue? After the
game Danny Briere and Simon Gagne both acknowledged that the Flyers had
trouble adjusting to the changes the Blackhawks had made in the third
period. Obviously, Quenneville isn’t going to do the exact same thing
that worked at the end but you have to think that Toews and Kane need
to continue to be split up going forward.

With Chicago headed back home, and knowing the history of this team,
then I would venture we’ll see the two right back together to start
Game 5. However, there’s a good chance that if they start to struggle
again and the Hawks have issue rolling out a consistent three-line
attack, that Quenneville won’t hesitate to move them around again. Of
course, it’s much easier to work on those changes in practice than it
is to change on the fly in the middle of a game.

Of course, after today’s skate Quenneville hinted that they might be
switching things up. Toews and Kane were skating together with Byfuglien
like normal, but some felt that it was just a ploy to not giveaway
their plans. Quenneville wouldn’t rule out any adjustments that might be
made during the game.

“I think the last couple of games we’ve always gone along here maybe
making some adjustments based on how we’re playing or what we like and
what we don’t like.”

“But I think we have a lot of options as far
as moving guys in and out and around in our lineup. I think tonight
we’ll look at doing what we think is best.”

If Quenneville is smart, if he truly is the coach to lead the
Blackhawks to the Stanley Cup, then he won’t shy away from the changes
that need to be made and proved effective in Game 4.

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    The Buzzer: Nikita Kucherov just keeps scoring goals

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    Player of the night. Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning

    The Tampa Bay Lightning have played six games this season. Forward Nikita Kucherov has scored a goal in all of them.

    He continued that goal scoring streak on Monday night in the Lightning’s 3-2 win in Detroit by scoring a pair of goals, including the game-winner to help lift them to their eighth consecutive win over the Detroit Red Wings.

    With that win the Lightning now have the best record in the NHL, while Kucherov’s seven goals are the second most in the league, trailing only Alex Ovechkin (nine).

    Kucherov has seen his production increase every year he has been in the NHL. He set a career-high with 40 goals a year ago and seems like he is on track to top that mark this season. Now playing in his age 24 season he should be right in the thick of his prime years in the NHL. When it comes to pure skill and offensive production there are only a handful of players in the league that can top what Kucherov is doing.

    Highlight of the Night.

    Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilievsky stopped 29 shots on Monday night but perhaps none were better than this pad save to rob Tomas Tatar right on the door step.

    Vasilevskiy had a slow start to the season but has been outstanding in his past two games, stopping 57 out of 60 shots in the Lightning’s wins over the St. Louis Blues and Red Wings.

    Factoid of the Night.

    Justin Abdelkader scored on a penalty shot for the Detroit Red Wings on Monday night becoming the first Red Wings player to do that in nearly 10 years.

    Ten years?! That seems like a heck of a long time between penalty shot goals for a team.

    Misc.

    Mike Green continued his incredible start to the season by scoring his first goal of the season for the Detroit Red Wings. He is now up to nine points in five games this season.

    Steven Stamkos picked up a pair of assists in the win for the Lightning, giving him eight on the season. Once he starts scoring goals (he only has one so far) he is going to be a force. His absence a year ago was a big reason why the Lightning fell just short of the postseason. With him back healthy they now have two of the top offensive players in the league (Nikita Kucherov).

    Scores

    Tampa Bay Lightning 3, Detroit Red Wings 2

    Leon Draisaitl lands on injured reserve for Oilers

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    After missing his team’s 6-1 loss to the Ottawa Senators on Saturday night, the Edmonton Oilers announced on Monday that forward Leon Draisaitl has been placed on injure reserve.

    He was injured one week ago in a game against the Winnipeg Jets and has been sidelined with an eye injury and concussion symptoms ever since. It’s a big blow to an Oilers team that is off to a slower than expected start having won just one of their first four games.

    Draisaitl signed an eight-year, $68 million contract over the summer making him a significant part of the Oilers’ core alongside Connor McDavid. He finished the 2016-17 season as one of the top offensive players in the league and is going to be counted on to help carry the offense again when he is healthy. The Oilers don’t have a ton of forward depth and are going to need McDavid and Draisaitl to be the focal points once again if they are going to live up to the preseason hype that made them one of the odds on favorites to win the Stanley Cup.

    Before he was injured this season Draisaitl had recorded one assist in three games.

    The Oilers host the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday night.

    It is not yet known how long he will be sidelined.

    SPHL gets creative, adopts ‘pick your opponent’ playoff format

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    When discussion about the NHL’s playoff format comes up, there is a section of fans who would like to see the league allow for an even greater reward for top teams other than home-ice advantage.

    That idea has become a reality thanks to the Southern Professional Hockey League.

    The 10-team SPHL announced on Monday that they are overhauling their opening round and turning it into what’s being dubbed the “Challenge Round.” The top three teams will get to choose their first-round opponent during a “Challenge Round Selection” event which will be broadcast to fans on Sunday, April 8, the day after the regular season concludes. After the top three seeds select their opponents, the No. 4 team will be matched against the leftover side.

    Every playoff series, including the President’s Cup Final, will remain best-of-three with re-seeding taking place for the second round.

    The idea for this change came to SPHL commissioner Jim Combs over dinner in June with Axel Bammer, Chief Operating Officer of the Erste Bank Eishockey Liga. When Combs heard that the league’s top teams get to pick their opening round opponent, he could imagine the buzz and interest it would generate. (Sweden’s Elitserien did this in the past as well.)

    A week after meeting with Bammer, Combs met with the league’s owners and received zero pushback about the idea. The new playoff format was widely embraced as the group felt this was the future of the hockey.

    Feedback has been mixed on the change. But Mike Campos, who covers the SPHL for The Sin Bin, sees it being a big plus for the league.

    One of the benefits of being at the bottom rung of the professional hockey ladder (second-lowest, if you consider the FHL a pro league) is there is flexibility to implement radically new ideas other leagues can not. If the “Pick Your Opponent” format change generates buzz among fans and rivalries between teams resulting in a spirited postseason, the decision could be a winner for the SPHL.

    As Campos notes, lower levels of hockey allow for plenty of onnovation while not straying far from the fundamentals of running a hockey league. This new format will certainly make the end of the regular season much more interesting and provide bulletin board material for teams and storylines heading into the playoffs. It’s an idea worth exploring, and the SPHL is no stranger to implementing ideas that catch on elsewhere.

    It was the SPHL where 3-on-3 hockey began over a decade ago. It was deemed a silly gimmick at first, but now that we’ve seen it at the NHL level for two seasons, it’s clearly a welcomed change — one that’s made overtime hockey must-see television.

    Combs said the league will see how it this playoff format idea plays out in April before deciding whether to keep or tweak it in the future.

    So what do you think? Would you want to see the NHL go in this direction for the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs?

    Stick-tap Scotty Wazz

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    Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

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    With Perreault out four weeks, Jets call on prospect Kyle Connor

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    Kyle Connor has been a scorer just about everywhere he has played — the USHL, the University of Michigan, and the Manitoba Moose in the American Hockey League.

    He’s only had a brief taste of life in the NHL, playing 20 games for the Winnipeg Jets last season, scoring two goals and five points.

    The 2015 first-round pick hasn’t yet experienced the same success at the NHL level, although he’s about to get another opportunity with the Jets after getting recalled on Monday. The move comes after Winnipeg placed Mathieu Perreault on injured reserve. He’s expected to miss up to four weeks.

    Perreault has yet to play a full 82-game schedule with the Jets because of injuries, but he’s been an important player when available, with consistent production and strong possession numbers. That said, the 20-year-old Connor is a promising prospect with the potential for significant upside, especially considering the role he should find himself in.

    Per NHL.com on Monday, Connor skated on the wing with Bryan Little and sophomore scorer Patrik Laine. That, it would appear, is Winnipeg’s second line, which gives them a difficult top-six group of forwards — the top line consisting of the red-hot Nikolaj Ehlers, Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler — for the opposition to face.

    “Speed. That’s the big piece that he can add to that line,” said Jets coach Paul Maurice. “Patrik’s such a great shooter. Bryan’s a really quick player. What Perreault did well was he got in and he got on it. He was quick enough to get in there to create some offensive zone time and allow those guys to do the things they do well and Kyle should be able to add that.”

    The Jets have won three in a row, with Connor Hellebuyck giving them a trio of impressive performances in net. They host the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday, although according to Sara Orlesky of TSN, Steve Mason is expected to get the start.

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    Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

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