Sunday, October 25, 2015

Blackhawks Defensemen Coming Up Big Without Keith

The Chicago Blackhawks came into the year with some question marks at defense.  The loss of Johnny Oduya to free agency where he signed with Dallas, the acquisition of Trevor Daley into a new system, the sophomore year of Trevor Van Riemsdyk, the rookie year of Viktor Svedberg, the re-signing of, still injured, Michal Rozsival, and the hopeful thought of a better David Rundblad asks a lot of questions to the bottom half of the defense of a reigning Stanley Cup Champion.  Now with the injury to Duncan Keith and the absence of him in the lineup for the next 4-6 weeks, the defense will be put to the test.  Let's breakdown what we've seen so far, granted it has been early.

Van Riemsdyk has played in all 8 games this year.  He has 2 points (1G, 1A), a +1, 11 blocked shots, and an impressive 18:29 TOI.  In the two games with Duncan Keith out, TVR has seen his TOI move up to an average of 22:44.  He's also seeing a lot more time on the PK, spending over 4 minutes a game killing penalties.  He's joined the rush in some cases creating scoring chances (one of which, resulted in TVR's first NHL goal).

Svedberg has played in 7 games this year.  He has 1 goal, a +1, 13 blocked shots, and a 16:32 TOI average.  This is Svedberg's rookie season and we know how much Quenneville feels comfortable with playing rookies.  They are usually lucky to see 10 minutes a game.  Svedberg is still learning, but considering this year is his first in the NHL, these are impressive rookie numbers.  It's not all about the points.  We all know how important minutes are for a defenseman remembering how many minutes the defense had to play last year in the playoffs.  16:32 is a huge amount of time.  He averages 1:53 of that time killing penalties.  He's made mistakes, but he seems to get better as the season goes on.

Daley has not settled in quite yet with the transition game that the Blackhawks play.  We've seen this with other veterans as well (Richards, Vermette).  Defense is what Quenneville wants his team to be based on.  Daley is an offensive defenseman and will need more time to adjust.  He's made some mistakes, but that happens when you are second guessing of where you should and shouldn't be on the ice.  He has 1 assist in the first 8 games this year, but he has helped anchor the power play unit averaging nearly 2:30 minutes per game.  Overall he is averaging 17:28 TOI a game, but that time should gradually increase as the season goes on.

Rundblad is in his 3rd year with the Hawks.  He has only played in 3 games this year, 2 of which have come now that Keith is out.  He is going to be heavily relied upon to be a steady player in Keith's absence.  The last two games played, he is averaging 14:43 TOI and 3:26 on the PP unit replacing Keith.  He hasn't found the score sheet yet this year and is a -1.  He still makes more mistakes than what you would like to see in a defenseman with 57 games with the team, but we can hope he will get better.  Even though he has been in the league since the 2011-12 season, he has only played in 107 total games in the NHL and has been with 4 different NHL teams.

The grunt work of the defense is going to come from the two players that have 3 Stanley Cup rings with the Blackhawks, Brent Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarsson.

Seabrook has already had a busy year with earning himself worthy of wearing the "A" as alternate captain with the departure of Patrick Sharp.  He also agreed to an 8-year contract extension, keeping him here till hopefully he retires as a Blackhawk.  In the first 8 games of the year, he has 5 points (2G 3A), 15 hits, and 11 blocked shots.  He's spent time on both the power play and penalty kill.  His new contract doesn't kick in until next year, but if there was ever another defenseman the Blackhawks should lock up for life, he was it.  Let's just hope that his hefty salary cap hit starting next year ($6.875mil) won't make things more difficult for GM Stan Bowman down the line in keeping other key members of the team's future.

Hjalmarsson has been one of the most underrated defenseman in the NHL for quite some time.  He's a puck-eater and it shows.  Almost every game he is taking at least one shot that seems to cripple him as he wobbles back to the bench, only to hop back onto the ice for his next shift.  In the 8 games so far this year, he's registered 1 assist, but 19 blocked shots, which leads the team.

Rozsival, who is still recovering from the injury he received in the playoffs last year, is still on long-term injured reserve.  he's scheduled to return in late October or early November.  When he returns and gets back to speed, he will most likely split duties with Rundblad.  Rozsy is entering his 4th season as a Hawk.  Over that time, he has played in 134 games with 33 points (2G 31A), and is a +33.  He's averaged 17:00 TOI over that time.

The Hawks will have to hope no other injuries occur until some players get back from their injuries or they will have to dig deep into their Rockford players, namely Erik Gustaffson Ville Pokka.  Regardless, the defense has done a superb job as the Blackhawks are averaging 2.00 GAA, good for 2nd in the NHL.  Let's hope Coach Q keeps them focused.


No comments:

Post a Comment