It's understandable that outsiders might see your team juggling lines and identify it as a show of frustration. But for the players, it often comes as a relief.
This clearly isn't working, and in the end, you're 12 forwards trying to win a hockey game -- it's not all that important who you do it beside.
In fact, a certain element of the lineup shake-down caters to your narcissism -- there's no way you're the reason your line is playing that bad, so maybe it couldn't hurt to go out on the ice with a couple guys who aren't playing like dogs.
The grass starts to seem greener on other lines, and after Game 4 of this series, I bet Jonathan Toews(notes) and Patrick Kane(notes) are ready for a little trial separation. And, I'm pretty sure neither of them will fight too hard for custody of Dustin Byfuglien(notes), a man who one can only assume is the proud new owner of a "Property of Chris Pronger(notes)" T-shirt.
For a team making in-game adjustments, the problems begin when your coach switches to picking lines by covering his eyes, spinning, and pointing at three random name-bars. At one point last night, I wasn't ruling out a Kane/Eager/Huet power-play unit.
It doesn't erode your confidence in your own game so much as it eats away at your faith in your coach.
Even more frustrating, is when a coach decides to mix it up, then doesn't give your new line the time to find out if you've got a little mojo together. In Game 4, Chicago Blackhawks Head Coach Joel Quenneville would shake things up, but revert back to his default setting two shifts later. It didn't show the confidence and commitment you hope to see from the person making the most crucial decisions for a team trying to accomplish something great.
It seems that Pronger really is the problem for the Blackhawks young gunners, and while Chicago made a half-ass attempt to keep those guys away from the talented D-man, neither of them was allowed to shake the beast for long enough to get comfortable.
When line changes to work for a team, the general formula is simple: reward the guys playing with jam by putting them with a couple players that can put the puck in the net.
If you're shuffling in the first place, it's often because your skilled guys are being perimeter players (as Chicago's were), so it benefits both parties by playing them as a unit. Skill guys can't score goals if nobody's willing to get the puck.
But unlike the Philadelphia Flyers forwards, who tested the Blackhawks' defense with every rush, the majority of Chicago's forwards played like marshmallow fluff. And, without a guy like Adam Burish(notes) to at least provide some sandpaper, Quenneville's line combos consistently looked far too wishy-washy to threaten the Flyers net-front OR their safety. (For what it's worth, Ladd did a great job -- I wouldn't be surprised to see both he and Burish in Game 5).
At some point, it's on the players. You can only polish a turd so much. So without anyone demonstrating the playoff grit Stanley Cup winning teams so often have, the most effective change Quenneville might make before Sunday night is to send his medical staff for a defibrillator, and try to re-start Dustin Byfuglien's heart. They need that guy right now.
When they chose to spread their talent out across a number of lines on Friday night, they simply didn't stick with it long enough to really test secondary defenseman Kimmo Timonen(notes) and Braydon Coburn(notes) (both very capable defensemen in their own right). If Quenneville wants to mix 'em up for Sunday night, you can rest assured that the players would at least like a couple of periods together.
"Frustrated" and "indecisive" are not exactly the two words you want to describe your coach in the Stanley Cup Finals. Some solid decisions will need to be made before morning skate tomorrow.
When your boat is headed for an iceberg, it's probably best to change course. We'll see if the lookouts on staff in Chicago see the problems in time to make the right adjustments.
- Joel Quenneville