If anything, the game was a stress test for the lesser-used players on the roster -- especially the team's defensemen. Coach Joel Quenneville chose not to use Sunday’s game as a tune-up for his regular roster, sitting defensive stars Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith, Jonathan Toews and taking it easy on Dave Bolland who has been out with a non-serious injury, according to the Hawks.
Left with more prominent roles, Sami Lepisto, Steve Montador and the rest of the back end of the blue line moved up a few notches on the depth chart to take on Alexander Ovechkin and the mostly regular lineup of the Capitals. The result was predictable: 36 shots against, two five-on-five goals against, a power-play goal against, and even a shorthanded empty-net tally against.
So the Hawks need their stars. That much we knew. Was it the right move to rest them?
At first thought the answer is no. Not with nearly a week between the preseason finale and regular-season opener. This school of thought says Quenneville should role the lines like he would come Friday in Dallas. Let’s see the defensive pairings for a full 60 minutes. There would have been nothing wrong with such thinking.
But after seeing Ben Smith get hammered to the ice and Viktor Stalberg suffering a little bit of a fluke injury, why chance it? If Keith, Seabrook and Toews feel their ready, believe them. This isn’t their first rodeo. If you’re wondering about resting all the stars, Marian Hossa and Patrick Kane haven’t played nearly as much as those who didn’t play. They needed the game action, especially Kane, who’s learning a new position.
Unless there is a major change -- as surprising as it is -- expect Kane to open the regular season as the Hawks' second line center. It isn’t something that crossed anyone’s mind over the summer -- outside of Stan Bowman and company. Kane hasn’t embarrassed himself, though he did get caught right in the middle of the Capitals second goal. He wasn’t out of position but he didn’t do anything to disrupt a scoring play happening near the middle of the Hawks zone.
Thinking about it, Kane might not make the glaring mistake playing center. He’s too skilled. His “mistake” might simply consist of not making the tough play when it’s called for, like in Sunday’s game. It will be hard to blame him. He just hasn’t done it at the NHL level, no matter how much all parties claim “he’s played center his whole life.”
In any case the experiment wasn’t an instant failure as many observers would have thought. Until it becomes one -- if it becomes one -- there isn’t any reason it can’t be tried some more starting next weekend. Remember, though having a great season usually means getting off to a great start, whatever the lineup in October is, it’s of little concern come April. That’s when playoff roles are handed out. See spring, 2010 for further evidence.
A 2-5 exhibition season means little for a young but veteran group. A case can be made that even the newcomers from young aggressor Daniel Carcillo to soon-to-be 40 year-old Sean O’Donnell, none really turned it on for lack of interest or maybe fear of injury. It’s probably the reason, in many training camps, the prospects out-play the veterans. Starting Friday, that should change.
After mostly seeing a rag-tag roster throughout preseason, Friday can’t come soon enough. And then we’ll start to know what these Hawks are all about.