Hawks hope line changes will spark offense

CHICAGO -- Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville has tinkered with his lines during games at times this season, but he resisted overhauling them.

On Friday, Quenneville decided the first significant changed were finally needed.

Quenneville altered all four lines during practice on Friday at Johnny’s IceHouse West leading up to Saturday’s game against the Toronto Maple Leafs. The moves came a day after he voiced his frustration with the team’s recent lack of offense following its 3-2 shootout loss to the Blues on Thursday.

Quenneville’s lines Friday included Brandon Saad-Jonathan Toews-Ben Smith, Patrick Sharp-Michal Handzus-Patrick Kane, Bryan Bickell-Marcus Kruger-Andrew Shaw and Brandon Bollig-Brandon Pirri-Joakim Nordstrom. Marian Hossa had the day off, and Quenneville said he would replace Smith on the top line on Saturday.

Quenneville’s lines had consistently been Bickell-Toews-Kane, Sharp-Handzus-Hossa and Saad-Shaw-Nordstrom. His fourth line was normally Bollig, Kruger and a rotating player. The Bickell-Toews-Kane line had been one of the keys to the Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup run last season.

“A little bit more comfortable with the lines today than to start the season,” Quenneville said. “We had a lot of success with that top line coming out of the playoffs, and we started them like that. Feel like we have more balance with the look today.”

The Blackhawks’ offensive woes over the last six games were what prompted Quenneville to switch everything up. The Blackhawks have scored a total of 13 goals over their last six games and haven’t scored in the third period since the season opener.

Quenneville was hopeful splitting up Kane and Toews, who tied for the team lead in goals last season, would especially ignite the offense.

“It gives the other teams a lot to be concerned with -- who you want to check, who you want to play who against,” Quenneville said. “We still got other threats on other lines when they’re together. But at the same time, I feel like the productivity shouldn’t be shared with just those two lines, but across the board. That’s what we’ve seen in the past.”

Toews thought a change could give the team a boost, but he also didn’t believe the Blackhawks were dealing with a serious offensive issue. He thought it was psychological more than anything.

“We don’t see it as problem,” Toews said. “We have a lot of talent in this locker room, so nothing is going to change there. I think scoring just comes from confidence. It comes from getting the result you want, seeing the puck go in, and when that happens you kind of build off it.

“When you score a goal in a game, you definitely feel the energy. The shift after you feel like you can be loose and just lets things happen. When that starts happening a little more naturally, then I think the rest of our game will come along too.”

The Maple Leafs have proven to be one of the league’s better defensive teams so far this season. They rank 11th in the league with 2.38 goals-against average and have held opponents to one goal or less four times in eight games.

The Blackhawks’ defense has held firm while the team searches for its offense. They rank sixth with a 2.29 goals-against average.

“For some reason this season, it just seems more tighter defensively, not as many pucks are going in,” Saad said. “We have to focus on playing well defensively. And with as much talent as we have, we’re definitely going to score goals.”