There's probably not a better systems coach in the NHL than Joel Quenneville. The style and discipline he's imparted on the Chicago Blackhawks are big parts of why the franchise has thrived over the years. Things becoming in vogue across the league, Quenneville was doing years ago.
Quenneville is a brilliant hockey mind, and that's why it's so frustrating watching him coach himself into a fury of bizarre, unnecessary lineup changes like we saw Thursday. The Blackhawks came out in Game 3 looking significantly different than the first two games against the Anaheim Ducks, seemingly trying to change the tone of a close series. Instead, the result was a stunted effort in front of a sold-out home crowd.
Quenneville isn't the reason Chicago lost Thursday night to the Ducks. The team's lifeless power play was an issue before Game 3 -- some early success the prior game withstanding -- and again, they're trying to stop Corey Perry and company with four legit defensemen.
Still, Quenneville took some of the Blackhawks' biggest advantages on the third and fourth lines, then basically tossed them out the window. I can't fathom how the coach watched the fourth liners scored two goals in Game 3, including Marcus Kruger's overtime game-winner, and thought that was something worth changing. NBC's broadcast might've spent a lot of time gushing over the Ducks' back lines, but watching at home it seemed like Chicago was playing well with those matchups.
Instead, Quenneville blew up the third line by bumping up Andrew Shaw to center between Patrick Sharp and Kris Versteeg, who had looked terrible last time we saw him weeks ago. Unsurprising, that line did pretty much nothing all night, and the new fourth-line grouping of Kruger, Andrew Desjardins and Joakim Nordstrom was similarly ineffective. How he preferred those matchups to ones featuring Shaw on the wing plus Teravainen and Vermette playing is something I'm still trying to wrap my head around.
Teravainen had been looking dangerous throughout the playoffs, showing off some deft passing and winning enough puck battles to be an effective possession player. Neither he or Vermette were racking up points, but they were getting steady chances and seemed close to some breakout performances. For whatever reason, those two seem to be targets of benching more than other players, though.
The coach explained his moves by saying he was worried about fatigue over the course of a seven-game series, and that's a reasonable concern. The Ducks play a hard, physical game and have the skill to really challenge opponents. The Hawks' best chance was always going to be skating circles around their defensemen, and that won't happen with tired legs.
It also won't happen with Shaw at center and talented skaters like Vermette and Teravainen sitting on the bench, though. Whatever Quenneville thought he was going to get from the changes -- hits, physicality, penalties from Versteeg falling all over the place -- it was offset by the loss in dynamism that the scratched players brought to the table. And for Chicago, that electric passing and skating -- in concert with Quenneville's systems -- has been central to its recent success. It feels like Q tried to play the matchup game Thursday and instead coached the team away from its strengths.
There are other questions about Game 3, too. Why did Kruger play fewer than nine minutes -- and take zero faceoffs -- after scoring the game-winning goal two days ago? What was the point of changing the fourth line if you only wanted to use it for eight minutes? If fatigue was a primary reason behind the moves, it didn't stop Q from playing his top forwards big minutes. It's almost like he made the adjustments, actually watched the Desjardins-Kruger-Nordstrom line, then quickly realized his error. That still forced him to play Shaw big minutes at center, which led to two shots on goal and a 5-of-14 effort on faceoffs in over 18 minutes of ice time.
It's always possible there's an undisclosed injury, and Quenneville is simply being glib with explaining his moves. Teams in the NHL usually aren't the most open with sharing players' injuries publicly, especially in the playoffs, and that would go a long way to making sense of all this. Otherwise, it comes off like a rare series of blunders from an otherwise great coach.
Quenneville has never shied away from adjustments, and the majority of the time, they work out pretty well. His use of Desjardins on the fourth line has proven to be an adept decision, for example, and it's hard to complain about his handling of the blue line at this point given the personnel. There are times when the legendary coach can take it too far, though, and Game 3 is an example of that. Sometimes, the best moves are the ones you don't make.