Martin Havlat is ice cold, and as Chris Kuc is reporting, he will try to regain his scoring form with the third line, joining Dave Bolland and Andrew Ladd.
Dustin Byfuglien will move from the third line to the first to join Toews and Versteeg. Patrick Kane, who has played most of the year on the first line, has been skating with Patrick Sharp and Troy Brouwer since coach Quenneville shuffled lines mid game in the Blackhawks win in Toronto. Kane has been on a scoring hot streak since that point.
Havlat on the other hand, has not scored a point in the last three games and was held shotless in the Blackhawks loss to Los Angeles this past weekend. He has not registered a multi point game since the ninth of November and has yet to have a multi goal game this entire season.
Being the highest paid forward on the team, the Blackhawks did not expect this low level of production from Havlat, who has surprisingly played all 22 games of the season without injury.
Havlat came to Chicago to be a superstar natural playmaker and goalscorer. Cut short by injuries every year, his full potential has never been seen by Blackhawks fans. Now that he is healthy, but not producing, many wonder if the potential is still there.
This year Havlat is averaging 1.99 points per 60 minutes played, the truest statistic to measure playmakers. That puts him in the class of Dave Bolland and Ben Eager, not Patrick Sharp and Patrick Kane, the company many believe Havlat should be keeping in that stat. Not to mince words, but Havlat’s play is just not cutting it.
Joel Quenneville has always been knocked for moving around lines too often. There is no data to suggest whether he is right or wrong on average when it comes to these lineup changes, but his winning percentage speaks for itself.
His teams have been 40 game winners all but once this season, and he has never finished with a winning percentage below .530 in his NHL head coaching career. The last time he moved lines the Blackhawks responded immediately, coming back from a 4-2 late deficit to win.
However, will this line change work? Only time will tell, but there are a few things that can be assumed when it comes to this shift in the lineup.
First, the third line has been the defensive stopping line. The two power forwards in Byfuglien (or Eager) and Ladd with Dave Bolland have taken the ice against the best lines other teams have had to offer, and have held them, for the most part, in check.
At the same time, this combination has put goals on the board, and have single handedly won games for the young Blackhawks. Martin Havlat is not a good enough defensive player and it will be interesting to see if Joel Quenneville changes his strategy with him at right wing.
Moving Byfuglien to the first line will have effects on that line as well. It appears that Quenneville has decided that the first line is being pushed around too frequently and needs someone big to crash the net for Versteeg and Toews. It appears to be a good call, as Jonathan Toews has had to scrap it up for the Hawks this year, putting a severe damper on his point totals and ability to control the game.
With Toews presumably going back to a playmaker role, the first line should flourish. Expect Byfuglien’s numbers to go up as well, he played his best hockey last year when on the left wing with Toews.
It appears that Quenneville is looking to play the same strategy on the three scoring lines as well. Under Dennis Savard, the top three lines all had different roles. Quenneville now has his lines where the roles are mixed together. Each line has a power forward (Byfuglien, Brouwer, Ladd) to crash the net and work the slot, a grinder (Versteeg, Sharp, and Bolland), and a sniper (Toews, Kane, Havlat.)
The second line has been utilizing this strategy since the call-up of Brouwer and it has worked exceptionally. While Patrick Sharp’s ability to fill all three roles is debatable, his fantastic play thus far is the real reason for the success. Quenneville has decided to test the theory out across his lineup, while still keeping the productive pairs (Toews and Versteeg, Brouwer, and Sharp) together.
The lines for tonight’s game will be: