Usually, when it’s observed that the Blackhawks lost a lot of their key depth, it’s observed in the same breath that their core is still intact. It’s true that Kane, Toews, Sharp, Hossa, Keith, Seabrook and Campbell are all still there. Depth is important, but with a strong core like the Hawks have, they can threaten to look a lot like the team that won the Cup a year ago.
So what’s the game plan against them? Play to their weakness.
The Blackhawks’ depth players just can’t be leaned on. The hope is that they can be put on the ice for a while to give the heavy hitters a break, but one look at their ice time shows they aren’t trusted in high-risk situations. The Blackhawks can’t rely on their depth as they could last season. As a result, the much-lauded core has to play more. With the exception of Keith and Seabrook, none of the Blackhawks’ core are used to playing the minutes they saw Wednesday night.
And Alain Vigneault made a little comment about it at his post-game podium. Just a little dig:
“I think one of the reasons that we can play at a fast pace is that we can play our bench, and it permits us to keep, most of the time, some momentum.”
That’s right, unlike some coaches (mentioning no names, of course), Vigneault can “play his bench.” You know the Blackhawks caught that comment. I wonder if it doesn’t contain a little dare. Go ahead, play your fourth line more. Let’s see how it goes.
The Blackhawks are already feeling the effects of fatigue, as they took a break from the ice yesterday. They’re tired. They’ll come back strong next game because it’s the playoffs and they have to, but they won’t be their best. They physically can’t. The Canucks have employed experts who can go on at great lengths about how fatigue affects reaction time. No amount of determination will overcome the physical limitations of the human brain. Tired teams just don’t play as well.
The Sedin twins played only around 17 minutes last game. Obviously, the Canucks had a two-goal lead after the first, and were able to rest the Sedins a bit. Rest is something the Blackhawks players won’t be seeing much of, and it doesn’t help that they’re already tired, and the Canucks know it. Look what Alain Vigneault said yesterday:
“Chicago came in here. They had played five games in eight nights. Five stressful and intense games. We felt it was important for us to come out with a good start.”
So what’s the game plan? Hit them hard, strike early if possible, and roll four lines to keep your players well-rested. A short series would be preferred, but the Canucks are better-equipped for a long one than the depleted and fatigued ‘Hawks.
It even helps that the score Wednesday night was 2-0, instead of 4-0 or even 3-0. A two-goal lead means expending every effort possible to get that first one, because a one-goal lead is awfully close with a goalie pulled in the last 90 seconds of the game. The fourth line can see some real minutes in a blowout, but in a close game, you’re forced to play as hard as you can.
Vigneault didn’t seem to feel the need for insurance. Aware that the 2-0 lead is the worst in hockey, he seemed content to let the Sedins rest, and trusted his grinders to play sound defense and let the Blackhawks wear themselves out. Even that was something of a taunt: Quenneville and his staff likely spent plenty of time preparing to shut down the Sedins, and then Vigneault played them for less than a third of the game. He claims he plans to limit the length of their shifts to 30-35 seconds. If that sounds ridiculous, it’s because it is.
And Vigneault knows it, which is why he said it. It’s a taunt to his opposing coach. I could do that, if I wanted. You can’t.
Lots of folks in the last two years said that Vigneault was “outcoached” by Quenneville. They said he was coaching scared. Kyle Wellwood said the Canucks play like they’re afraid to lose.
If Vigneault was afraid to lose Game 1, he’d have sent the Sedins out a bit more to get some insurance. It’s not easy to feel comfortable for 40 minutes of a playoff game with just a 2-0 lead, especially against a team like the Blackhawks. The inevitable pushback was a risk Vigneault was apparently willing to take, because while he likes winning a game, he likes winning a series more.
The Canucks had 20 hits in the first period. They rolled four lines. Kesler was the only forward to break 20 minutes last game, and even his minutes weren’t above par. The Canucks are well-rested and ready for Game 2, and they’re far more prepared for a Game 6 or a Game 7 than the ‘Hawks will be. Vigneault knows what happens when you can’t roll four lines and have to lean too much on your big guns in the playoffs. He’s been in that position, and he’s seen the effects first hand.
And he’s determined to do the same to the Blackhawks.Tags: Blackhawks, I felt like this blog needed another tag, I really do feel that way so if skeeter or harrison thinks of one they should add it but either way get rid of this one, Vigneault