Heads up, Patrick Kane.
It was only one game of the Western Conference finals. I get that. It also might've been only because of the game situations, whether it was the end of a shift or Kane’s dangling at the red line.
But still, the Kings sent two and three skaters at Kane, playing him unlike most opponents. Usually, Kane gets defensemen to back up and create space because they’re afraid he’s going to undress them with his stickhandling. He often gets the Pavel Datsyuk treatment.
In several situations in Game 1, though, the Kings sent waves of defenders at Kane, less to pound him than to simply force him to give up the puck. The Kings seemed intent on making someone else on that line beat them. Looking at you, Patrick Sharp.
And so, we’re back to looking at Kane’s linemates both now and later, because things will change when the series shifts to Los Angeles, and I believe Kane's line will be one of them.
For now, the first problem is that the fast centers who could skate with Kane and work a give-and-go can’t win faceoffs, so he gets the slow guy who’s fast on the draw.
After going 2-10 on the third line in Game 1, Regin is 6-23 at the dot the last two games. After going 12-8 against the Kings, Handzus is 30-19 in the last three games.
I brought this up before the series started and I’m bringing it up again because coach Joel Quenneville started looking for offense before the second period of the opener was over.
Sharp, who’s going through a scoring slump in the postseason the way Kane has gone through a season-long scoring slump while skating with Handzus, was moved to Regin’s line with Kris Versteeg. Brandon Saad was then moved up to skate with Handzus and Kane. For a little while, anyway. Quenneville’s lines seem to be no longer than just a little while.
The Hawks owned the first five or eight minutes of Game 1 thanks to short, sweet exit passes that often begin their puck-possession offense. But then the Kings started taking away the middle, forcing the Hawks to abandon the tape-to-tape passes and resort to banking it off the boards and glass.
Expect the Kings to continue that. Expect the Hawks to look for home-run passes. Expect the need for Kane’s goal-scoring to grow.
I can see the issue of Kane’s linemates becoming more acute when the series switches to L.A. because the Kings get the last change. That will be Darryl Sutter’s chance to get Anze Kopitar’s line away from Jonathan Toews.
Skating with playoff goal-scoring leader Marian Gaborik and Dustin Brown, Kopitar found himself skating almost every shift against the Hawks’ Selke Trophy winner and saw his high-flying line reduced to six failed shots.
If that line isn’t going, the Kings can’t win this series. So, as Sutter looks to get the best matchup for his best line, I figure this is when Quenneville gives the Kings a matchup nightmare himself by reuniting Toews, Kane and Bryan Bickell.
That line, you might recall, had a fair bit of success against the Kings last year at this time. They were fast, big and good, and they ended the series, Toews to Kane, double overtime, see ya.
That would leave Quenneville to drop Handzus between Sharp and Marian Hossa, which has to help Sharp because everybody gets better on a line with Hossa. It’s like what happens when someone draws Willy Wonka’s Golden Ticket for the Toews line, and don’t look now, but Hossa leads the Hawks in postseason points.
Who knows, the Hawks might go with this setup in Game 2, not even waiting for L.A. With Quenneville, the game of toy soldiers never ends. The Hawks will need offense against the league’s best defensive team in the regular season, and making Kane and Sharp more dangerous is how they find it.