Anaheim Calling: How much line matching do you expect in this series? I assume Joel Quenneville will want Jonathan Toews to go up against Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, but does that leavePatrick Kane to deal with a matchup vs. Ryan Kesler or will Q try to put Toews and Kane together vs. Getzlaf and Perry?
Second City Hockey: When it comes to predicting what Joel Quenneville will do, honestly, your guess might be as good as mine. The Blackhawks' coach is notorious for his willingness to stir things up -- the "blender" is a common phrase at SCH -- and that makes it hard to guess exactly what he has up his sleeve. Chicago seemed to find a lineup it liked during the Minnesota series, with Bryan Bickell bumping up to the second line and Teuvo Teravainen becoming a mainstay on the third, but Quenneville is willing to change things quickly on the fly if he doesn't like what he sees. In the opening series against Nashville, we saw Antoine Vermette -- who management gave up a first-round pick for -- get benched, and the same happened to Teravainen, the team's best young player.
So it's certainly possible the Blackhawks offer up several different looks in this series, or even within a single game, if the Ducks are able to dictate the action in a way that worries Q. Most likely, the lines you saw at the end of the Wild series will remain intact, which means a first line of Brandon Saad, Toews and Marian Hossa, and that grouping has generally stuck together all year. Unless things get especially dire, Quenneville tends to keep Kane and Toews separated outside of the power play.
AC: Speaking of Patrick Kane, is his skeleton made of Adamantium or did he just rely on some kind of Game of Thrones-esque Blood Magic to return to the lineup almost a full month earlier than expected and not miss a beat? But seriously, from an outsider's perspective it's been seamless. At the time of his injury he was leading the league in scoring with just over a point per game pace (64 pts in 61 gp, 1.05 p/gp), and here in the playoffs he trails only Corey Perry in scoring with just over a point per game pace (13 pts in 10 gp, 1.3 p/gp). Has there been any noticeable effect of his collar bone injury, if so how has he overcome it?
SCH: After some early tentativeness against the Predators, Kane was back to his old self in the sweep of Minnesota. He scored a goal in all four games, drove possession into the opponent's zone and offered up his usual array of tantalizing passes. No player gets me more excited with the puck on his stick, and that only comes with a mild tinge of bias. He's a truly superlative player -- something Anaheim fans know a little about given their team's star power -- and part of me just feels grateful that the sport of hockey has guys like him to make things so entertaining.
As for the injury, I think any concern about Kane's health has essentially vanished, and while everyone in Chicago tightens up a bit when he takes a hit on the ice, that was pretty much the case before he broke his collarbone. We've seen other guys return early from similar injuries in the past, and in this case, it's not surprising someone with Kane's talent and work ethic was able to return so soon. I don't think anybody expected the rust to be shook off so quickly, but hey, it's Patrick Kane. Dude is special.
AC: Looks like David Rundblad is coming in for Michal Roszival after the latter broke his ankle in Game 4 vs. Minnesota. How does that change things for the Chicago blueline? Does it pave the way for Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook to get the band back together, Blues Brothers style? (It is Chicago after all)
SCH: The Blackhawks were already aggressively leaning on their top four defenseman -- Keith, Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Johnny Oduya -- before the Rozsival injury, so it will still be up those guys to shoulder the load. In the morning skate on Thursday, Keith was skating with Hjalmarsson and Seabrook with Oduya, while Kimmo Timonen, Rundblad and Kyle Cumiskey rotated on the third pairing. That could be the alignment the team goes with for Game 1, with one of the latter three guys getting scratched based on how Quenneville feels. Rundblad seems to be the odds-on favorite to get the gig given that he played the most during the regular season, but there's definitely a part of the fan base that would rather see Cumiskey. To them, Cumiskey at least hasn't shown the propensity for sloppy mistakes that's plagued Rundblad's young career.
AC: Was Corey Crawford, that much better against Minnesota than he was against Nashville, or was the defense helping him out more.... OR was Minnesota just that much worse?
SCH: Honestly, nobody really knows what happened to Crawford early in the Nashville series. He just had a couple bad games, for whatever reason, and the Blackhawks have to be grateful that Scott Darling was there to step in and lead the team to some wins. Crawford has always been the man, though, and against the Wild we saw the form that he had displayed the vast majority of the regular season. Like many goaltenders, Crawford tends to do better when he faces fewer shots, but it's not like the Blackhawks obliterated the Wild -- Minnesota had the Corsi and shot advantages in the series, after all. So I think most people are chalking up that brief stretch as a minor slump, one that has essentially been forgotten as he's rounded back into form. Of all the things I'm worried about with the Blackhawks, goaltending isn't really one of them.
AC: The Blackhawks possession numbers seem to have slipped slightly since the regular season (51.8 SAT% vs 53.6%). In fact, despite sweeping Minnesota, the Hawks didn't even have the greater share of shot attempts in the series (49.0 SAT%). How much of a concern is that/is there any explanation that the Chicago analytics crowd has come to?
SCH: There would probably be more concern if anyone had any idea how to gauge which Blackhawks team will show up each game. The worst habit we've seen from Chicago this year is occasional complacency, and that's part of what makes it so frustrating when the team rattles off an absolutely dominant period after hanging out for 20 minutes of action. Dominating the possession game isn't nearly as easy in the playoffs, when the talent and effort are at their highest levels, and I think this postseason we've seen a Chicago team that's content to play into score effects and dial up its urgency when necessary.
Part of why the Wild outshot the Blackhawks in the series was how often they were trailing. Chicago led for the vast majority of the time, and decided to play a fairly conservative strategy in those times rather than try to rack up blowouts. I think the analytics community is far more concerned with the team's inability to effectively clear the zone and create opportunities going the other way, which at times has led to some pretty ugly results.
AC: Who would you consider to be an unsung hero that the Ducks should lookout for in this series?
SCH: It's hard to find unsung heroes on a team full of big names, but I think that Niklas Hjalmarsson could be a guy whose impact is underestimated entering this series. Everyone knows the Blackhawks have two star blue liners in Keith and Seabrook, but I would venture that Hjalmarsson belongs in that group as well given his development the past few years. One of the biggest goals of the playoffs so far came when Hjalmarsson flew into the crease and fired one past Pekka Rinne in Game 1 to cut the Predators' lead to 3-1, and anyone who watches the Hawks regularly can tell you about how tough the guy is. Only Keith played more minutes during the first two rounds. So let's go with Hammer.
AC: Who would you consider to be the biggest potential liability in this series for the Hawks?
SCH: Kimmo Timonen and whoever the sixth defenseman is. Pretty obvious, really, given the team's incredible forward depth and steady goaltending. Timonen has played fewer than 10 minutes a night while often looking like the aging veteran he is, and who knows what the team will get from the guy replacing Rozsival. They're easily the biggest question marks looming over an otherwise stacked team, and I think it's fair to say there's concern a solid performance could be undermined by the mistakes of a few players in outsized roles.
Big thanks to Satchel for doing this. Here are my answers to his questions over on Second City Hockey.