Blackhawks need fresh legs, speed in lineup

Updated 5/30/2014 5:07 AM
  • The Blackhawks' Kris Versteeg has struggled this postseason, leaving many to wonder if there is any benefit to having him in the lineup right now.

    The Blackhawks' Kris Versteeg has struggled this postseason, leaving many to wonder if there is any benefit to having him in the lineup right now. Associated Press

Joel Quenneville has won two Stanley Cups and more than 800 games as a coach, including the postseason.

He's headed for the Hall of Fame as soon as he decides handicapping horses is more fun than trying to maintain a healthy stable of players.

Quenneville has pushed the right buttons too many times to try to count them all, and he will go down as one of the greatest of all time.

But when it comes to loyalty, he's got a stubborn side that borders on the absurd.

The most obvious example is the continued presence of Kris Versteeg and Brandon Bollig, both of whom could have been removed from the lineup weeks ago.

Neither is bringing anything to ice these days, and it's absolutely fair to wonder if either should be playing in front of Peter Regin or Jeremy Morin, to name just two.

Michal Handzus has redefined "slow" -- even Handzus makes fun of his skating -- but at least Handzus, who played for Quenneville in St. Louis, is a solid penalty killer and has scored big goals for the Blackhawks the last two postseasons.

But the Hawks have been outskated and outworked in this series -- as they were in the first two series -- and some speed in the lineup is essential right now.

Perhaps, Quenneville has finally figured that out.

Versteeg has been bad throughout the postseason, turning the puck over in dangerous spots and failing to get the puck deep, and he had another bad night Wednesday, on the ice for 2 goals and personally responsible for one of them.

The winger didn't play after the second period.

Bollig had just 4 shifts after the second period and finished the game minus-2 with 4 hits in 14 shifts and 8:20.

You just have to wonder if Quenneville will listen to reason and play the players who give the Hawks the best chance to win Friday night in Game 6, not the ones he likes the best or those who have performed for him in the past.

Quenneville has fond memories of the Versteeg who helped the Hawks win in 2010, and when the Hawks dealt for him this season at a reduced cap hit, it made a lot of sense. But the old Versteeg has not arrived, and instead the Hawks have an old-looking Versteeg.

Asked about Versteeg on Thursday, Quenneville said: "It was a tough night, the one shift particularly. Just got to battle through it. It's a competitive game. Not a lot of time, not a lot of space. You've got to do whatever you can to advance the puck and contribute."

In fairness, Versteeg is a little more than a year removed from an ACL surgery, and perhaps in the fall he'll be a different player. But now is not the time to do anyone any favors or play favorites.

There is, after all, no margin for error.

On the positive side, as he shakes up the lines and looks for something that works, Quenneville put three new defensive pairs out in Game 5, and it paid benefits immediately. It was the opposite of the 3-1 deficit against Detroit a year ago, when he put the regular defensive pairs back together.

"We didn't like the last three games," Quenneville said. "It was almost exactly like last year. We changed the pairs back. These pairs that were here (Wednesday) were basically the pairs for most of last year. It wasn't like they were unfamiliar."

He also threw Patrick Kane on a line with Brandon Saad and Andrew Shaw, and that trio was dynamite in Game 5, collecting 9 points and getting chances on nearly every shift.

"Hopefully, what we discovered," Quenneville said, "could be a line for a long time."

The bad news is Shaw reinjured his knee late in the third period and was struggling to skate in overtime. Knowing Shaw, he will play in Game 6, but he may not be as effective as he was Wednesday night, though Quenneville said Thursday that Shaw will be good to go and the coach will play the hot hand.

Quenneville is a horseplayer who's never met a hunch he didn't like. He plays exactas and trifectas until he sees a combination that clicks, and he's been right a lot more than he's been wrong.

Furthermore, his loyalty to players is admirable, but in the case of Versteeg and Bollig, there's just no visible benefit to having them in the lineup right now.

It's not as though Quenneville can't see it. It's not as though he's unaware.

He just has to admit it to himself.

• Listen to Barry Rozner from 9 a.m. to noon Sundays on the Score's "Hit and Run" show at WSCR 670-AM.

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