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

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

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.

Raffl coverts PTO into one-year, $575K deal with Jets

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There’s another Raffl in the NHL.

On Tuesday, the Jets announced that Thomas Raffl — the older brother of Flyers forward Michael Raffl — has signed a one-year, one-way deal worth $575,000.

Raffl, 29, was in Winnipeg’s camp on a PTO after a lengthy career in Europe. He spent time playing in Sweden and his native Austria, most recently with powerhouse EC Red Bull Salzburg — last year, Raffl scored 53 points in 52 games for Salzburg and three in seven games for Austria while serving as team captain at the World Hockey Championships.

“We would like to recognize and express our appreciation to the EC Red Bull Salzburg organization for allowing Thomas and the Winnipeg Jets this opportunity,” Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff said in a statement.

With the Jets, Raffl projects to play in the bottom-six forward group, where he can utilize his 6-foot-4, 215-pound frame in a checking-slash-energy role.

For now, though, he’ll start out with the club’s AHL affiliate in Manitoba.

Flyers to start season with seven d-men; MacDonald sent to AHL

Andrew MacDonald, Matt Calvert
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Seven defensemen will comprise the Philadelphia Flyers’ opening-day roster, which the club finalized today.

Those seven are Radko Gudas, Michael Del Zotto, Luke Schenn, Nick Schultz, Brandon Manning, Mark Streit, and Evgeny Medvedev.

Not on the list? Andrew MacDonald, who has cleared waivers and been assigned to AHL Lehigh Valley. (That move allowed the Flyers to keep both Manning and youngster Scott Laughton.)

Also not on the list were prospects Shayne Gostisbehere, Robert Hagg, Sam Morin, Ivan Provorov and Travis Sanheim. The first three will start the season in the AHL. The last two have been sent back to junior.

But the opening-day roster is not where this story ends. How the Flyers’ defensive mix changes as the season progresses will be worth watching.

They’d no doubt love to move Schenn, a pending unrestricted free agent with a $3.6 million cap hit. He could also end up in the AHL, a la MacDonald.

Medvedev, the 33-year-old who came over from the KHL and put up five points in five preseason games, is another pending UFA. The club could either look to re-sign or flip him.

Might 37-year-old Streit be a chip worth cashing in at the deadline, especially if the Flyers aren’t in a playoff position on Feb. 29? He’s only got two years left on his contract.

Meanwhile, GM Ron Hextall will be watching pending restricted free agents Manning and Gudas closely. Are they part of the future?

So, lots of decisions to make in Philly as the blue line continues its much-needed transition.