For additional insight on the Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference Final, NHL.com has enlisted the help of Claude Noel to break down the action. Noel will be checking in throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Noel was coach for the Winnipeg Jets from 2011-14 and interim coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2009-10. He also coached many years in the minor leagues, including the American Hockey League. In addition, Noel, a former forward, had 138 points in 353 regular-season games in the AHL and played seven games in the NHL with Washington Capitals in 1979-80.
The Chicago Blackhawks will need to get secondary scoring across the board if they are to have any chance of defeating the Anaheim Ducks in the Western Conference Final.
That's what Claude Noel strongly believes needs to happen in Game 2 at Honda Center on Tuesday (9 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).
The Ducks scored a 4-1 victory in Game 1 on Sunday when each team's offensive stars were shut down. But that's when the Ducks' supporting cast took over as Hampus Lindholm, Nate Thompson, Kyle Palmieri and Jakob Silfverberg scored goals. Silfverberg scored into an empty net with 1:18 left.
"To me one of the keys is the play of the secondary players [in this series]," Noel said. "Who is going to step up? A lot of times this is what happens in playoffs. Both teams' key players are checked closely, so it comes down to the third- and fourth-line guys who need to make the contributions."
Brad Richards scored late in the second period to pull Chicago within 2-1. It marked the first loss for the Blackhawks since April 23.
"In Game 1, Thompson, Palmieri and Silverberg scored, all good secondary players. In Chicago's case they may have to get more production from some of those secondary guys. It's only one game though, so let's see how it plays out."
Noel said he thought Chicago had the perfect game plan on the road in the first period, outshooting Anaheim, 16-7. Anaheim entered the first intermission, however, holding a 1-0 lead.
"To me I thought Chicago looked pretty good early; I thought they were fast, made good plays, had good puck control and zone time," Noel said. "They were outshooting Anaheim, they were playing a good game. I thought they were very good in their breakout out of their own zone. They were rimming pucks up the boards, quickly getting it out and not enabling Anaheim to punish their defensemen."
But that changed midway through the second period when the Ducks began to physically wear down the top-four defensemen for the Blackhawks. Chicago coach Joel Quenneville gave limited ice time to his fifth and sixth defensemen, Kimmo Timonen (5:15) and David Rundblad (10:47). Anaheim outhit Chicago 44-34.
"A key for Chicago is how will they counter Anaheim's plan of attacking their four defensemen," Noel said. "I thought Anaheim did a good job of being physical on their defense, especially the second half of the game. They could wear them out in the series.
"If Chicago is going to continue to play the top four as many minutes that they feel is required to win, then Anaheim is going to target them physically. That's going to wear on them and it will be problematic."
Noel said that wasn't the case early on when the Blackhawks spent very little time in their own zone as they were quick in getting the puck out.
"They were up on the rush and back in Anaheim's zone, so that's easier on your defense than it is working down low in your own end," Noel said. "In the second half of that game, I thought Anaheim got the puck down low, punished their defensemen more; they were able to wear on them more and that's tough."
Noel knows Quenneville is going to make the proper adjustments for Game 2.
"Joel does a good job with this group and he knows his team better than anybody," Noel said. "The one thing you always have to remember, I think the coaches made the switches they deemed necessary at key times. You could see they were trying to get some people unclogged.
"Quenneville moved (Brandon) Saad around, they moved (Bryan) Bickell around and did different with him. They had different wingers with (Antoine) Vermette and (Brad) Richards and they did a good job with that."
Noel believes receiving some big goals from the second tier of forwards and coming to the aide of the top four defenders at times will certainly benefit the Blackhawks in Game 2.
"Chicago played fast in the first half of the game; it wouldn't have been too bad if they didn't get worn down as was the case in the second half when their defense took that physical punishment," Noel said. "Chicago can't allow that to happen as the series moves forward."