Winning tends to conceal blemishes like a crafty woman’s makeup. You forget the defensive breakdowns because your goalie made some key stops. Perhaps the struggles of crucial players can be glazed over thanks to an unexpected contribution or two.
Up 2-0 after holding strong with two one-goal victories at home, the Chicago Blackhawks may be able to absolve Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane for being unproductive so far in the first two games of the series. That doesn’t change the fact that they have been more or less invisible to begin the Cup finals, though. Patrick Kane has 0 points, 5 shots on goal, 2 PIM and a -3 rating while Jonathan Toews also has no points, 3 shots on goal, and a -2 rating. The only common member of the team’s best line to have a point is Dustin Byfuglien, who managed to collect an assist in Game 2.
I took a look at the most common line combinations during the playoffs for Jonathan Toews, and Toews-Kane-Byfuglien is by far the most frequent even strength trio. (source: Dobber Hockey) That’s been the even strength combo for 40% of the time. My thought is: could the team benefit from splitting up the two faces of its franchise?
In the regular season, the most common top line was Troy Brouwer-Toews-Kane. If Chicago wanted to revert back to that group, they’d still get some brute force in the form of Brouwer while having that one-two offensive punch. Another interesting possibility would be switching Marian Hossa for Kane. A Byfuglien-Toews-Hossa line would be about as strong on the puck as you could get.
Of course, there’s also another strong possibility as to why the line is suffering: Chris Pronger. Just look at the last time the menacing behemoth was in the Stanley Cup finals; the red-hot line of Dany Heatley, Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson could barely muster a fight against Pronger and the brutal Anaheim Ducks. A truly elite defenseman is one thing this Chicago team faced little of in the playoffs. While the Nashville Predators sport a true gem in Shea Weber, the Vancouver Canucks defense core was riddled with injuries (including to their big shutdown blueliner Willie Mitchell) and the San Jose Sharks best defensemen were offense-minded (Dan Boyle), aged beyond their prime (Rob Blake) or more position-conscious than intimidating (Marc-Edouard Vlasic). Pronger is on a whole other level than everyone except Weber, maybe.
So, ultimately, the biggest perk of splitting up Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews may just be that Pronger can’t be on the ice to harass them all the time. Maybe I’m giving Pronger too much credit, but even if the Blackhawks are overwhelming the Flyers with their superior depth and goaltending, one has to wonder if they can do much damage against a team so strong at home (Philadelphia is 7-1 at the Wachovia Center).
Why wait until you lose to make adjustments in order to improve your chances of winning?