I Know The Pieces Fit
He returns, The Redeemer!
Those are the words I'd like to write for tomorrow's game preview, as it's looking more and more like Captain Marvel will don a game jersey and hit the ice in St. Paul tomorrow. It's basically up to him now, and while we all want him to be careful with his recovery, the buzz and smart money says he'll get the last two games to tune up the body before we unleash the #19 Cracken on the Western Conference in the playoffs.
With Toews's return, there is a question of who the lines will shake out. While a discussion of this is a bit pointless because you know even in one series we might see every combination possible, I've wasted a good amount of my pseudo spring break figuring out what they should be in Game 1.
There's been some talk of putting Kane, Hossa, and Toews together, forcing one of Hossa or Kane to flip to the left side -- more likely Kane as he can still pass from off his forehand from there while not forcing Hossa to not be squared up to shoot from the right. Again, this doesn't totally matter, as the Hawks like to cycle and move in the offensive zone and everybody ends up everywhere if they're on. But I'm not down with this. I've never liked the idea of loading up one line unless it's the 3rd and you need a goal. It makes the Hawks too easy to counter, even if you think Sharpie and the Swedes can maintain what we've seen the past couple weeks for a good while longer. I'm not so convinced, as much as I've loved it.
For me, I wouldn't break up Brunette and Hossa. While Hossa and Kane have gobbled up the points and headlines, Bruno's contributions aren't to be ignored either, as he's opened up space around the net with what he does well. Replace Kane with Toews's added forechecking, and that could really be useful in a bogged down series with Nashville or LA (the two most likely scenarios right now). Plus, the playoffs should be about maximizing every asset you have, and the only way you get something out of Brunette is to have him in the top six. He's pretty much wasted on the 4th line, and you might as well scratch him if you're going to do that (which I wouldn't be totally opposed to but not exactly thrilled with either).
Where do you go from there? Well, this is where I'd like to see the Hawks get a bit radical, such as it is. I would love to see Kruger and Stalberg move to play with Mayers on the wing, giving the Hawks a fourth line full of energy, forecheck, the ability to score (4th line goals in the playoffs are immense). This would provide Quenneville with a 4th line that he can roll for over 10 minutes if he sees fit, and the ability to play all four lines in a playoff game is one that's not to be dismissed. You'll recall two years ago that Game 2 against Vancouver was greatly shfited when Eager and Burish and Madden were united down there and drove the Canucks nuts. While it wouldn't have the spiky-ness of that line, 25-16-22 would be a handful for any team's bottom defensive pairing through sheer speed and balls.
That leaves only who to play with Kane and Sharp, and which of those two are in the middle. The latter question to me doesn't matter, you can do both as you see fit. I would put Hayes with them just to give them some size to open things up, but Frolik's work ethic if nothing else wouldn't hurt as well. Though that would be a pretty small line. But thanks to Sharp's rediscovered defensive diligence and Kane's effort in his own end at least, I'm not as panicked about them getting murdered defensively as I would have been. And they'd have the puck a lot.
There's the other option of sliding Stalberg down with Bickell and Bolland, moving Shaw to the 4th line, which also works for me, and keeps Kruger on the second line which you can't argue he hasn't earned. Stalberg and Bickell showed some chemistry when together early in the year, and no one wants to deal with those two together on the forecheck.
But what's most exciting is that you can basically do anything with this collection of forwards, within reason, and it should work. Thanks to Shaw's emergence, and Stalberg's and Kruger's development (and both have shown they're not afraid of the playoffs even when the Hawks were seriously outgunned last year), the team is as close to Q-proof as it can get. Just my two cents.