I don’t normally clamor for change – but this time might be different.
While all the MVP talk included scorers and goalies during the week that led up to this Finals series – Toews, Byfuglien, Niemi, Richards or maybe Giroux – it’s a big, hulking defenseman who’s singlehandedly taken over the series. After the first two games, he garnered attention because he “stole” the game puck; since it’s been because of his solid play. All along, though, Chris Pronger has dominated the Hawks’ top playoff line of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Dustin Byfuglien.
Sure, Kane lit the lamp in Game 3; that came against the Braydon Coburn pairing.
Pronger does two things that are absolutely killing the Hawks. First, when Kane enters the zone, it’s almost always on Pronger’s side – and Pronger’s a veteran who’s seen Kane play a time or two. Under more normal circumstances, Kane enters the zone, takes a hard stride or two – forcing the defenseman to respect Kane wide – and pulls up, looking for trailers. From there, guys like Duncan Keith have prospered by accepting passes as they enter the zone. During this series, however, Pronger pinches Kane between the blue line and the boards, stifling Kane’s momentum and effectively taking away any pass he may attempt to make to trailers. For that line, taking away Kane’s biggest asset – his ability to “stop and shop” – has been disastrous.
Secondly, when another forward gains entry into the zone, or Kane does it on the opposite side, Pronger is intent on either (i) abusing Byfuglien in front or (ii) worse yet, absolutely disrupting any cycle the Hawks get going. This has been done by dominating physically along the boards, often against Kane who’s normally able to get defensemen to respectfully back off while he’s on the outside. Not this time. Pronger has enough confidence to play one-on-one with the small winger who’s best asset isn’t speed. So far, it’s a match-up Pronger has dominated.
Bottom line: Pronger has singlehandedly taken the best Hawks’ line of its game, and in four games, Toews, Kane and Byfuglien haven’t been able to figure it out. Perhaps it’s time to make the Flyers choose between playing Pronger against Toews or Kane.
Oh, and maybe it’s time to give Brouwer another chance at being a top-sixer. Seemed to work out well during Game 1.