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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    Maple Leafs may look to Russia to improve defense (again)

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    Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston reports that the Toronto Maple Leafs confirmed that Mike Babcock and Lou Lamoriello recently made a visit to Russia, but they didn’t admit why they went.

    It turns out that they were scoping out KHL defenseman Igor Ozhiganov, who plays for CSKA, according to Johnston and others.

    Ozhiganov, 24, did not go drafted. He does, however, have some interesting NHL connections. For one thing, he suited up for the same team that Nikita Zaitsev did, so that experiment has already worked out quite well for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

    As you can see from the tweet above, Ozhiganov will play in the KHL through 2017-18. That’s impressive due diligence from the Leafs’ brass, although you wonder if such maneuverings might put the defenseman higher on the radars of other teams hoping to add depth to their bluelines in the future.

    Raw Charge notes that Ozhiganov is a buddy of Tampa Bay Lightning star Nikita Kucherov, who definitely sings the defenseman’s praises. Even with Mikhail Sergachev in the mix, the Bolts are a group that will probably want to bolster their mix (especially in the uncomfortably likely event that Dan Girardi disappoints).

    Either way, NHL fans will need to wait at least a season to see what Ozhiganov is capable of … and where he lands.

    Devils give Jimmy Hayes a shot with PTO

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    The New Jersey Devils have made dramatic moves to improve their forward group over the last few years, but even with Taylor Hall, Marcus Johansson, and Kyle Palmieri in the mix, there’s still plenty of room for improvement.

    With that and the Devils’ recent struggles in mind, it only makes sense for GM Ray Shero to be open-minded to “reclamation projects.”

    Perhaps that will be the case with towering forward Jimmy Hayes, then. The Devils announced that the winger has been invited to training camp on a PTO.

    Look, there’s no doubt that Hayes has frequently struggled to make a difference at the NHL level. Not that long ago, he broke a 35-game pointless streak.

    Still, it’s probably fair to give him an incomplete grade instead of a failing mark from 2016-17. After all, there are only so many players who can produce much offense when they’re receiving 9:14 TOI per game.

    Hayes went from averaging 15:09 per contest in his best season (2014-15, when he scored 19 goals for Florida) to 13:50 TOI with Boston in 2015-16 and then that new low last season.

    So, no doubt about it, Hayes’ stock couldn’t get much lower.

    We’ve seen fringe guys become valuable assets after getting clean slates, including with bigger forwards. Zack Kassian resurrected his career following some significant struggles, just to name a recent example.

    The Devils could use another NHL-caliber forward, particularly with valuable center Travis Zajac slated to miss a chunk of 2017-18. Maybe Hayes can be part of the solution.

    No need for Flyers to rush Nolan Patrick after injury-plagued year

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    This post is part of Flyers day at PHT…

    It wasn’t long before Nolan Patrick began lighting up the Western Hockey League.

    Two years before he was even selected second overall by the Philadelphia Flyers, he had scored 30 goals in his first full season with the Brandon Wheat Kings. A year later, he had 102 points, vaulting him into the position as the likely No. 1 overall pick for the 2017 Entry Draft.

    Dating back more than a year, however, Patrick has been sidetracked by injury.

    He underwent sports hernia surgery last summer. He played in only 33 games for Brandon this past season and couldn’t play for Canada at the World Juniors. In June, just prior to his selection by Philly, he had another operation — an abdominal surgery, the Flyers later announced — with a window of four to six weeks before he could resume full activity.

    The Flyers had only a 2.2 per cent chance of winning the first overall selection, yet they still made a massive move up the board when the lottery had concluded. The first pick would come down to Patrick or Nico Hischier, who worked his way into the conversation for No. 1 overall as his QMJHL season continued.

    In the end, the lottery-winning Devils took Hischier and Patrick fell right to the Flyers.

    In Patrick, the Flyers get a center that stands at 6-foot-2 tall and 198 pounds, and is capable of producing significant numbers offensively — at least that’s what he showed in junior. Even if his 2016-17 season was hampered, Patrick still managed 20 goals and 46 points.

    “And then playing and not being a 100 percent. I didn’t play one game this year feeling [like] myself. I’ve got the summer to get where I need to be,” said Patrick, per CSN Philly.

    “My skating was kind of bugging me throughout the season. I needed to get my conditioning back to where I wanted it to be. I did as much as I could, but I wasn’t pouting about it.”

    Patrick turns 19 years old next month during training camp and will look to make the Flyers for this upcoming season. Given everything he’s dealt with over the last several months, it would be, despite the talent that made him a top prospect in the draft, unreasonable to place lofty expectations on him right away, as he makes the transition into the NHL.

    Having him healthy and ready for camp is a good start, but there really is no need to rush him along, particularly if it’s at the expense of future gains.

    “We’re looking at the big picture here,” said general manager Ron Hextall earlier this summer, per the Courier-Post. “We’re not looking at next season. We’re looking at hopefully the next 10 to 15 seasons. We will do what’s best for Nolan long-term.”

    Report: College free agent Alex Kerfoot opts to join Avalanche

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    The wait appears to be over.

    College free agent Alex Kerfoot has reportedly made his decision, choosing to join the Colorado Avalanche, according to Darren Dreger of TSN.

    The news comes days after it was reported the New York Rangers were among the finalists to land the Harvard product, which would’ve provided a boost in depth at center for that club.

    The 23-year-old center was also targeted by the Vancouver Canucks, which is hardly surprising given Kerfoot is from that area and played his junior hockey in nearby Coquitlam.

    Kerfoot, originally drafted by the New Jersey Devils, was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award this past season, after scoring 16 goals and 45 points in 36 games with Harvard.

    He decided not to sign in New Jersey, becoming an unrestricted free agent on Aug. 15.