CHICAGO -- Once again, the Chicago Blackhawks are shaking things up in a continued search for more consistency and better results, especially at home.
After losing three straight games on home ice, Hawks coach Joel Quenneville -- known for his lineup juggling -- is back mixing and matching again.
This time, as the Hawks prepare to play Phoenix tonight at the United Center, Quenneville is taking aim at the top defense pairing of Duncan Keith
and Brent Seabrook
. Saying the pair will be split up for stretches of tonight's game, Quenneville is hoping that working less minutes per game and with new defense partners gets both going.
Keith, who's logging 29:10 a game, has 1 goal and 12 points -- but he's also saddled with a minus-5 rating. Seabrook is logging 25:39 a game, and is plus-2 with 2 goals and 9 points. Keith's rating is an odd thing to see next to his name, though.
"Tonight we're going to try and find a little more balance in our pairs and our minutes, and hopefully that makes everybody more effective in our team game as well as their own games," Quenneville said. "(Keith) is one guy that we expect to be out there against top guys and getting the job done."
Asked what he'd like to see both Seabrook and Keith improve, Quenneville was to the point.
"I just think more consistency in their game," he said. "They are logging a lot of minutes and expectations of them getting the job done have always been in place. That's what we're looking for, whether it's providing it (together) or with a new partner. Hopefully, that can get their games back to that high level that is expected of them."
Quenneville is also poised to break up the team's most recent first line, which had Patrick Kane
on the right wing with Jonathan Toews
at center and Viktor Stalberg
on the left. Stalberg and Toews will stay together, but Kane is moving to left wing on the second line with Tomas Kopecky at center and Hossa on the right. Patrick Sharp
will man the right wing on the first line.
Quenneville's explanation was about as basic as his thinking on splitting Keith and Seabrook.
"We always try things when we're not winning or we don't like the way things are going," he said. "Sometimes we visit a lot of different things. At the same time, you've got to wonder whether the players are going to be compatible with one another. So, it's something that we'll see about and at least visit with it. I think it could really work."
If not, there's always center Dave Bolland
slowly making his way back from an upper-body injury that's kept him out for five games. Bolland isn't slated to play against Phoenix, but Quenneville said that when he returns he could possibly be paired with Kane and Hossa.
As for breaking up a first line that produced a combined 8 points and 4 goals in a win at Atlanta this past weekend, Quenneville said two-thirds of that line is still intact -- including Stalberg, who's impressed alongside Toews.
"You like his speed. He certainly adds that element with his quickness," Quenneville said. "He's got some timely goals for us, as well. Since he's played with Johnny that line's been effective, no matter whether it's Kane over there or Sharpie. He's progressed to where he's earned more ice time and more quality ice time." Wearing the bull's eye:
The Blackhawks knew they'd be a marked team every night because of their Stanley Cup win, but Phoenix is also dealing with a lesser version of that pressure each game.
After taking the League by surprise last season and finishing fifth in the Western Conference standings, the Coyotes are no longer a surprise. They are also getting opponents' best efforts in their 4-5-5 start to the season.
"It's a thing where last year the teams probably didn't get up for us as much as they do now," Phoenix defenseman Keith Yandle said. "We didn't have the history that we have this year coming in. People know about us having a good team. We're not going to sneak up on anyone, that's for sure. I don't if there's extra pressure with that. It's just the NHL and you've got to win as much as possible. Tonight, we're going to play desperate, hard hockey and you can expect the same from them."
Author: Brian Hedger | NHL.com Correspondent