Someone’s Gonna Have To Pay


 

 

Unless you’ve been hiding in a cave in Afghanistan for the past two weeks, you’ve heard complaints about the Hawks defense, specifically about the pairing of Duncan Keith and Nick Leddy. “Keith is straddled with Leddy.” “They’ve got no chemistry.” “Leddy gives up goals.” Personally, I still believe the Blackhawks have one of the best defensive corps in the NHL. And I believe the pairings are working. The problem, in my opinion, has been more with the defensive play of the Hawks forwards.

The truth is, Leddy has been playing more like a veteran defenseman and Keith like a 20 year old in his first full NHL season. The argument of course is that Keith has improved Leddy’s play, and Leddy has conversely hurt Keith’s. But if Keith is playing poorly, how does that benefit Leddy? And if Leddy is playing well, how does that discompose Keith? The argument just doesn’t hold water.

Maybe we’ve hung the “offensive D-man, defensively weak” tag on Leddy unfairly. Leddy’s defensive positioning has been excellent. His decision-making has been very good. Yes, he has trouble along the boards due to his lack of size. But these guys are often facing the oppositions’ weakest lines. If the argument is that Keith hasn’t looked good against weaker competition, how is he going to look paired with Brent Seabrook against the league’s best forwards? If this was a 4th line forward who was struggling, would we argue that he should be playing on the top line instead? No. (unless it was Troy Brouwer)

Keith looked “bad” last year no matter who he was paired with. And he struggled on the PP, on which he wasn’t playing with Leddy. Was Leddy the reason for all of his shots into opposing forwards’ shins? And if we look further back, many of the complaints about Keith this year and last were also complaints about Keith during his Norris Trophy-winning season in 2010. Blame the new guy?

In the playoffs last year, where Duncan finally looked like uber-Keith, he was paired with Leddy. In the preseason this year, where Keith continued to shine, he was paired with Leddy. So far this season while paired, Keith and Leddy have been on the ice for 3 Goals For and 3 Goals Against. So they’re break even while spending much of their time playing with a 2nd forward line where the only constant has been “new to center” Patrick Kane and a 1st line that has been less than stellar.

Maybe things aren’t as bad as they seem? But if there is any truth to the arguments against the 2-8 pairing, it should be obvious on the Goals Against, right? So let’s take a look at those plays.

 

Goal Against – BOS at CHI, Goal Scorer: Horton

Boychuk enters the neutral zone with puck. Keith is the only defender on the left side. Leddy is on the right side with 3 Boston forwards ahead of the puck in attacking position. Sharp and Brunette have defensive positions on their men.

Boychuk dumps the puck along the near boards, but Keith has taken a bad angle which will take him out of position. Brunette has lost his advantage on Seguin. Sharp and Leddy are still in good position.

Keith has to turn to retrieve the dumped puck. Boychuck is already accelerating towards the puck. Sharp turns to supposedly cover Lucic. Brunette is nowhere to be seen, forcing Leddy to cover the most dangerous attacking forward, Seguin.

Keith is still out of position, giving up the inside to Boychuk. Since the puck is moving around the corner, he has little chance of getting to it first. Against the 225lb defender, Keith makes the smart decision to glide behind Boychuk and regain defensive position. It is important to understand this point because many view this as a lack of hustle. Keith is pinned between Boychuk and the boards. Once he makes the decision to play the player and not the puck, he needs to slow down to gain position, not accelerate.

It has been suggested elsewhere that this was Leddy’s puck to retrieve and used as an example of the lack of chemistry between 2 and 8. If Leddy goes for that puck, he and Keith are potentially both out of position, and as you will see, 3 Boston forwards will be left undercovered in front of Crawford. Never should Leddy be retrieving that puck in this situation.

Although Boston has possession, Keith and Leddy are both now in good position. Keith has taken away the easy pass to the middle from Boychuk and Leddy has inside position on Seguin. Lucic enters the frame uncovered. It is now a 3 on 2.

Keith and Leddy retain their defensive positions as the play moves to the other side of the net. Boychuk passes to Horton who also enters the frame uncovered. There are now 4 Boston skaters below the hash marks. The Hawks defenders have covered the 2 biggest threats, but it is now a 4 on 2.

Horton shoots the puck past Crawford. Even if Crawford had made the initial save, Lucic is wide open on the opposite side for any rebound. All of the Hawks forwards are still above the hash marks, completely out of the play.

Summary: There has been much criticism of Keith for an apparent “lack of hustle” on this play. Keith is not an overly physical defender. He uses his stick and good positioning instead. After taking a bad angle, he chose position over being crushed by Boychuk. The defenders completely recover, but the forwards offer no support. Hard to blame this goal on “a lack of chemistry” since Leddy and Keith both played this correctly.

It’s easy to pass blame on those involved with a play and ignore those who are out the picture. Sharp and Brunette are the two players completely out of position, even though they started with the inside route on Seguin, Luci and Horton.

And speaking of “out of the picture,” where was Selke hopeful, Jonathan Toews?

He started it all with an awful unforced turnover in the neutral zone…

…and even though he was skating at half speed at the time of his turnover, instead of making a dead stop, decided to coast another 50 feet before turning around. Out of sight, out of mind?

After the game, Keith was asked what happened on this play. His reply, “I guess he was open. He shot and scored. What do you want me to say?” Some wanted Keith to say he was the blame for Horton’s goal. In my opinion, he should have pointed the reporters to the lockers of Sharp, Toews and Brunette.

 

Goal Against – WPG at CHI, Goal Scorer: Slater

This one only takes one frame to decipher. Tanner Glass passes the puck to Hainsey just inside the blue line. Rusty Olesz is caught low along the boards giving Hainsey an open shot. The rest of the team is in good position. Leddy shadows Slater who goes behind the net. Leddy correctly goes in front of the net, but pulls up to avoid obstructing Emery’s clear view of the shot from the point. Slater reaches his stick in front and deflects the puck past Emery.

Goals get scored in hockey. Not much that could be done on this one, aside from Olesz being in better position.

 

Goal – CHI at DAL, Goal Scorer: Goligoski

Against a strong forecheck, Keith is unable to handle a pass from Leddy. Keith steals the puck back, but finds himself pinned behind the net between two Dallas forwards. Some claim Keith makes a blind pass here, but it appears he is actually looking up ice. Regardless, he rings the puck around the boards to where Hossa should be. Unfortunately, Hossa has vacated his position.

Ribeiro intercepts the puck and advances towards the Hawks goal. Leddy correctly takes the puck-carrier. Hossa, as can be expected after a turnover, attempts to catch up with and backcheck Ribeiro. Kane – in his first regular season game at center – incorrectly triple teams Ribeiro, leaving his man, Goligoski, wide open in the high slot. Brunette, even with no one on his side of the ice, coasts. 3 Hawks forwards could’ve/should’ve covered Goligoski, but don’t. THIS is an example of (early season) lack of chemistry.

Keith and Leddy are in good defensive positions. Brunette attempts too late to cover Goligoski. Hossa’s early exit and Kane’s missed assignment lead to the Dallas goal. Making matters worse, Crawford goes down early and is beaten just over his glove hand.

Although it can be claimed that errors by Keith were made on two of the above plays, the defensemen recover, but lapses by the forwards directly resulted in all three goals.

 

Byproducts

And what about the other defensive pairings? Even if the pairing of Keith and Leddy has been “average,” if it results in strong pairings elsewhere, that has to be considered too.  So, let’s look at the three main pairings and the “even strength goals for and against” of each:

Even Strength GF-GA
Keith-Leddy – 3GF, 3GA
Hjalmarsson-Seabrook – 2GF, 1 GA
Montador-O’Donnell – 3GF-1GA

Paired with Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson has been playing out his mind this season. The fact of the matter is that the byproduct of the 2-8 pairing is that the Hawks have a shutdown pairing that has only given up 1 GOAL in 4 games against the oppositions’ top lines. Amazing, but never mentioned.

Wanna really blow your mind? Paired, Hjammer and Seabs have not given up a single goal 5on5. The one goal they gave up was 4on4. And let’s not stop there. On the PK, where 4-7 has been the top defensive unit, they have given up – wait for it – 0 goals. That’s right, the Hawks PK that was near the bottom of the league last season – and Hjalmarsson who was personally among the league’s worst PKers last year – finds itself 1st in goals allowed (1) and 4th in PK% (91.7%). That lone goal was given up with Keith and O’Donnell on the ice.

So if we’re talking about “chemistry,” why on earth would anyone want to break up the currently most effective shutdown pair in the league – a pairing that includes a player who struggled all last season with a different partner, in a different role?

 

Lastly, the 3rd pairing of 5-6 has been fantastic too. So good that they’ve actually played more shifts than usual with the 1st FW line. Q hasn’t had to protect them like last year’s 3rd pairing. That’s something that shouldn’t be overlooked. Keith’s overall TOI is down by over 1 minute compared to the past 2 seasons, and that’s with increased time on the PP. Q has been able to spread the minutes out, but there have been concerns that Keith is being run into the ground again. So far, those concerns are also unfounded.

So maybe it’s time to relax and accept that maybe Quenneville knows a thing or two about coaching. Although many would have you believe otherwise, the Keith-Leddy pairing hasn’t been dogshit and the resulting 2nd and 3rd pairing have played outstanding. And don’t worry, if you need a fall guy, there’s still John Scott we can all complain about.

Now about those forwards…

 

John Schultz
Follow me on Twitter: @ChiNativeSon

Tags: Brent Seabrook Chemistry Chicago Blackhawks Defensive Pairings Duncan Keith NHL Nick Leddy Niklas Hjalmarsson

  • cliffkoroll

    Extraordinary work here John! On that first goal, all I gotta say is: Marty Turco woulda had that puck.

  • LisaSantucciSchvach

    This is awesome. Thank you! I’ve been getting tired of the Leddy bashing, and my “eye” tells me he’s been playing well. I don’t have the level of hockey knowledge that you do, so this backs me up. Thanks for the education. More, please.

    • http://BlackhawkUp.com/ ChicagoNativeSon

      @LisaSantucciSchvach Thanks Lisa. I might make this a semi-regular thing. Anything to avoid using actual words works for me.

  • wardrums

    John,

    A brilliant analysis – wow! I was talking to a friend yesterday who coached at Mt. Carmel H. S. He told me the one thing he sees the hawks needing to improve on was “Team Defense.” I asked him what he meant and he basically said what you so meticulously demonstrated in this post.

    Although, being much more visual than cerebral, your pictures really tell a compelling story.

    A great, great, great post.

  • JimSchultz

    Thank you so much for this. I got skewered the other day when I mentioned that Sharpie let his man free on that second Boston goal. Awesome analysis.

  • wardrums

    the picture of Toews/Sharp/Brunette lined up together is priceless.

    • http://BlackhawkUp.com/ ChicagoNativeSon

      @wardrums Heh, heh. It really is, isn’t it? All in row. All flat-footed.

      And unfortunately that’s not the only bad goal that was given up by that trio. Gonna need more out of them. Brunette isn’t quite the addition 5on5 that I had hoped him to be either. Not sure where he fits best. Forcing Sharp to RW so Bruno can play LW doesn’t seem to be working.

      No easy solution IMO except to hope he can fit in better somewhere. I think 2LW might still be his ultimate destination, but then someone’s going to have to step up at 1RW.

  • John Jaeckel

    John,

    Nice blog. I applaud your diligence, but you do have a lot of subjective opinion mixed in. One example, Leddy fails to engage Slater because “he doesn’t wan to screen Emery.” Really? Maybe he failed to engage Slater because he was confused. I mean, my opinion is, he looks confused and tentative on the play. Maybe he didn’t want to screen Emery—your opinion. Maybe he was just confused and tentative. We both know if he had engaged Slater and tied up his stick, likely that’s not a goal. In truth, a goal like that can be and often is due to multiple breakdowns and poor decisions. Leddy is not blameless.

    • http://BlackhawkUp.com/ ChicagoNativeSon

      Not sure JJ that “a lot of subjective opinion” is a fair assessment. There are obvious breakdowns with the forwards with every goal. For example, Keith’s initial decision on Horton’s goal is obviously subjective, but after that the blame elsewhere is hard to deny.

      I’ll have to agree to disagree on the Slater goal. IMO Leddy is “pinned” in his position due to the site line. If Leddy skates in front of Emery, we’re probably arguing that Leddy shouldn’t have done that instead.

      And no, Leddy is definitely not “”blameless,” but he has received undue criticism as “the easy fall guy.” People are quick to assume that he is defensively weak, when in fact, his defense has been surprisingly good for a young defenseman, especially one who was billed as a puckmover. He’s going to make mistakes, but I don’t see them here.

      • John Jaeckel

        @ChicagoNativeSon Yeah, fair enough. And I do agree, had he engaged Slater, he could have screened Emery, thereby helping allow the goal in. Could have. As it was, he was just standing there and Slater was uncovered. It’s a subjective call.

      • John Jaeckel

        @ChicagoNativeSon And let me add, one more time: the detail in this is really outstanding and the analysis is mostly indisputable. I just don’t think you can assume in every case why a guy makes (or doesn’t make) a decision.

        • http://BlackhawkUp.com/ ChicagoNativeSon

          @John Jaeckel Thanks, and nope, we shouldn’t always assume, but that’s what we’re paid the BIG bucks to do, right?

    • DaleHalas

      @John Jaeckel Seriously, that is your argument? You have been spewing on your blog how Leddy has “hurt” Keith with the pairing. And on the three goals against your complaint is that Leddy didn’t cross the goalie on a shot from the point? To cover a stick? Sorry dude, but that is NOT a rookie mistake.

      If you are going to complain about Keith being saddled with somebody (because they are inexperienced) pick a better example.

      • John Jaeckel

        @DaleHalas Ha. Good to see that chip is still firmly in place on your shoulder. And you’re lurking, if not posting anymore. Well done.

        Could be that it is merely bad chemistry as I’ve implied (even if that doesn’t jive with the words you want to put in my mouth—whatevs).

        Two players of the same style, when Keith is better complemented by Seabrook (typically), though the point in the blog about Keith coming to life in the playoffs with Leddy has merit. That also, might have nothing to do with Leddy, good or bad.

        Sorry, I’m not buying the “Keith now sucks/doesn’t care” argument. Chemistry matters in defensive pairings. As does experience.

        • DaleHalas

          @John Jaeckel Yeah, JJ when I need a good laugh I go read what you say.

          And seems I wasn’t so delusional after all. You know, for thinking Salak was going to sign for under 1.3M, huh? What did he sign for again? The 600K I originally said? Really? And you wonder why I stopped posting there?

  • John FF

    This is pretty outstanding. Only thing I’d add when it comes to the ‘lack of chemistry’ argument is that Keith clearly has no idea where Leddy is on the Boychuk dump-in. He’s anticipating his partner in better position to gather the dump-in which your screenshot shows he’s clearly not.

    And on the Goligoski goal, Hossa is far too overaggressive on Ribeiro. He should’ve hung back with the whole play in front of him. Kane and Leddy had it under control; Hossa trying to do too much opened up the shooting lane.

    • http://BlackhawkUp.com/ ChicagoNativeSon

      @John FF No surprise to me that Hossa chases Ribeiro. That turnover was partly on Hossa, so his instinct was probably to try and correct it. Plus, that’s Hossa’s defensive zone. There is 2nd Stars forward below the goal line, so it’s still 2 on 2 there.

      Kane’s primary defensive responsibility as center is the middle of the ice, so Goligoski was his man. Kane was apparently still thinking like a RW.

      • John FF

        @ChicagoNativeSon I guess it depends on how the Hawks breakdown their defensive assignments. I’m sure it’s mostly fluid but generally the wingers handle the d-men while the center handles the other center. With better anticipation, Kane probably could’ve floated more towards the middle there but like you said, first professional game at center, not that great of a defender, etc. etc.

        • http://BlackhawkUp.com/ ChicagoNativeSon

          @John FF Yeah, not trying to crucify Kaner. “Someone” should’ve had Golig. And welcome to this neck of the woods John.

  • DaleHalas

    Amen, brother. Of course with me, you are preaching to the choir…

  • camdenx

    Great analysis – thanks for doing it. Many people on Hawks blogs rail way too much on Q (IMO) as if they knew how to coach the team better.

    Your analysis does a great job illustrating that maybe, just maybe, Q knows what he is doing.

    And the season of course is still young. I don’t get a lot of the hand wringing over the 2-1-1 record. The Boston game was a great, fast-paced hockey game – two very skilled teams flying up and down the ice. Thomas stopped some amazing shots (a couple by Kane) while Crawford was more pedestrian in net because, well, he didn’t have as many amazing shots flung at him.

    The other thing I’m not so sure about is the venom directed at Scott. I don’t recall him making any mistakes against Boston in his 5 or 6 shifts and on the contrary, his 4th line seemed to generate a number of scoring opportunities – at least they pressured the Boston net – more often then they got pressured.

  • Raedances

    This is a fantastic breakdown! I do disagree with you (slightly) on the first goal, however. You’re right about Keith needing to pull up while chasing the dump-in, but in HortonGoal5, you can pretty clearly see that Boychuk has possession of the puck. In HortonGoal6, you see Keith chasing Boychuk behind the net, which absolutely baffled me as the play unfolded. The chances of Keith stripping that puck off of Boychuk along the boards are 50/50 at best, and at that point (in what is essentially a 4-on-2), Boychuk is the least dangerous man on the ice. Keith should’ve dropped back to cover Lucic, who was wide open on Crawford’s back door, and Leddy should’ve been moving to cover the pass on that side. I can’t blame Leddy for his choice there, however – his defensive partner is, for better or worse, still trying to cover that pass, and he’s got Tyler Seguin right in his face. If he moves in that direction, then he and Keith are right on top of each other, and Seguin is completely unattended. Had Horton not been streaking into the zone, Boychuk could’ve just as easily reversed, passed to Lucic, and made Keith look like a fool on that side of the net.

    Ultimately, you’re right about the larger problem here – that the forwards were handing the defense a big sack of dog-shit. The picture of Toews, Brunette, and Sharp would be hysterical if it wasn’t so cringe-worthy. Still, with the 4-on-2 situation, Keith chose to put himself behind the net and essentially out of the play, leaving Leddy with 3 men to cover in front of the net. Thanks to the complete lack of support from the forwards, there’s a good chance that this ends up in the back of the net even if Leddy and Keith play it perfectly, but dropping back to cover Lucic and letting Leddy intercept Boychuk would’ve probably given them the best chance to halt the train-wreck. I’m really not sure why Keith played it this way – I can only guess that it was overconfidence in his ability to force the turnover, or (less likely) that he was hoping to pin Boychuk down long enough for his own forwards to join the party.

    Here’s a question for you on the Boston game – was I the only one screaming at the wings to cover their points? It seemed like the wings were dropping ridiculously low during that game, leaving the Boston defensemen wide open to cycle the puck, take shots (that Zdeno Chara guy – no slouch with the slapshot, right?) and generally wreak havoc with every attempt to clear the zone. The weird positioning was so consistent that I can only think of two likely explanations – that they were coached to do it, or that they (unwisely) didn’t trust the defensemen and Crawford at that point (the third possible explanation would be that there was a gas-leak in the locker room that caused them all to become simultaneously stupid). Am I crazy, or was it noticeably terrible?

    • http://BlackhawkUp.com/ ChicagoNativeSon

      @Raedances Thanks Raedances. First on a humorous note: Could you imagine the squalor in the Hawks blogosphere if Keith not only pulls up on that dump like he did, but also allows Boychuk to continue on, unchecked??

      I see your point, but I think in this case it made sense for Keith to shadow Boychuk. In that second it takes to switch from Boychuk to Lucic, a boom boom pass can be made and the play’s over already. It’s more common to leave a center who’s stationary behind the net unchecked. This is more of a fluid rotation and like you said, Keith probably believes he can either take away the pass or puck. And Keith is in Boychuk’s back pocket, so a reverse pass to Lucic probably wasn’t much of a concern. I think we can both agree that at least he’s covering someone! (cough, forwards, cough)

      I wish I could say I was able to pay more attention during the Bruins game to notice one way or the other. I had kids sick with the stomach flu, so, well, I caught “bits and pieces” so to speak. (OK, everyone go “Ewwww!!)

      • Raedances

        I’ve been thinking about this some more, and I think I’ve figured out the other half of what’s bugging me about the choice Keith made on the Horton goal. I still think that chasing behind the net wasn’t his best option, but I can buy it as a valid desperation move, given how outnumbered the defensemen were in this case. If he didn’t think that he and Leddy would be able to cover the passing options, he might have felt that taking the risk was the only way to save a goal. There’s also the possibility that he didn’t trust Leddy to intercept Boychuk on the other side of the net, even though Leddy’s simply needs to make a decent play to stop the pass, rather than a heroic one. If that’s the case, then it does have some larger implications for the ability of these two to play well together, but it still could be a factor in making Keith’s choice valid for this case.

        I think what’s nagging at me is that part of Keith’s problem last year was making this sort of impulsive move at the wrong time. Last year, I noticed a LOT of cases when he stepped up on a puck carrier prematurely (usually around his own blue line, frequently after shooting into someone’s shin-pads) and was immediately and badly burned. Sure, the ability to make that sort of incredible, aggressive play is part of what makes him an elite defenseman, but last season he seemed to lose track of the sense of timing that had served him well previously. To steal Shanny’s expression, the onus is on Keith to know whether or not he’s being overly-confident in thinking he can catch Boychuk before he makes the pass, and if I’m remembering correctly, he wasn’t even close. Even though it seems like he’s starting to regain his better judgment this season, it will probably be a while before this sort of risky choice doesn’t ring alarm bells for me. I guess that doesn’t make the risky choice necessarily bad, but if it becomes a pattern again, we’re in for a wild ride.

        • http://BlackhawkUp.com/ ChicagoNativeSon

          Even in 09 and even 10, I used to go nuts over this, but I think it has more to do with the Hawks system than Keith. “Puck possession at all costs,” High risk, high reward – and the Hawks had the speed and personnel to do this (and the speed to recover). We probably notice more when it doesn’t work out. Interesting thing to watch though.

          Last night Leddy was the latest culprit, which almost led to that shorthanded goal. Seabrook came across ice to help out, none of the forwards covered Seabs’ side of the ice, and an odd man rush was the result.

  • wardrums

    John, Lost in all the mind numbing analysis of the erhstwhile Norris Trophy winner, (should I stay or should I go now), was perhaps the best part of your magnificent post yesterday

    The image of Leddy was one of the best photoshops you’ve ever done. Sometimes we miss the trees because of the forest. (or something like that.)