Chicago Blackhawks: Why the Last Line Change Has Killed Them on the Road
Sitting at a mark of 17-18-5 on the road heading into the last game of the regular season in Detroit, the Chicago Blackhawks have had major issues playing away from the United Center, where they finished the regular season a highly impressive 27-8-5.
Many factors have gone into the Hawks' road struggles. There's the obvious things that go into home ice advantages: your own clubhouse, sleeping in your own bed, fan support, and the like.
However, with Joel Quenneville at the helm, nothing seems to be more important to that team's home ice advantage than having the last line change.
Having the last line change has been huge to the Blackhawks' home success during the Quenneville era. Whenever a team sends their top scoring line out, Quenneville counters with Bolland's checking line. When there's a weaker line out there, the top guns go out and try to pick things apart.
Away from the United Center, Coach Quenneville has to send out a line and hope that the other coach either challenges that line with what would be their assignment, leave them out there regardless of the matchup, or try and get a quick line change to get his matchup.
None of those three options are ideal by any means.
Valuable time comes off the clock, and a bad line change can lead to a quality scoring opportunity for the opposition. With no true No. 1 goaltender to turn to, the Hawks can't afford to give the opposition extra chances.
Should the Hawks get lucky and have the opposing coach send out their top line vs. Bolland's checking line—think the Sedin line for Vancouver—there's likely a catch, a strategy, a trump card being held back by the opposition.
If Quenneville leaves the lines out there despite the mismatch, he risks his team giving up a goal. With a shaky defense and even more questionable goaltending, this can only hurt the Hawks.
Corey Crawford may have looked good last season—and at times this season—but he's no Antti Niemi.
The third and final option is to try and win the faceoff—something the Hawks have proven highly inept at this season)—dump the puck in and get a line change. Of course, a failed dump in can lead to a nasty odd-man rush, and good teams convert on those chances.
That being said, with a bit of luck, and potentially a healthy Jonathan Toews, the Hawks could finish the regular season as a .500 road team.
In the playoffs, though, overtime losses don't matter. The team will still need to win on the road if there's to be a parade this summer.
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