We are finally down to the last two days of Olympic hockey, with the Bronze Medal Game contested today between USA and Finland, and the gold and silver medal recipients to be decided between Canada and Sweden tomorrow. With another few days until NHL play resumes, let’s take another look at the Blackhawks’ performance at the break. We already covered goaltending and offense, so today we will evaluate the defense.
It’s temping to simply write “Duncan Keith” and leave it at that. After all, his name has been at the forefront of the list of potential Norris Trophy candidates throughout the season. But that would be giving short shrift to the rest of the hard-working defensemen on the team. It’s not a stretch to say that the Chicago Blackhawks have an extremely deep pool of D-men – if not the deepest in the NHL – to rely on.
Let’s look at some numbers. With 45 assists, Keith is fourth in the entire league, and first among defensemen, in that stat. He is also second among defensemen in points with 48.
Keith’s defense partner Brent Seabrook is sitting in a respectable thirteenth place among NHL defensemen with 34 points (6 G, 28 A). Even better is his plus/minus – he’s a +24 (technically in the #12 spot although 2 other players share that stat), compared to Keith’s +19. With numbers like these, the snub from leaving him off Team Canada for the 2014 Olympics seem that much more acute.
In spite of the mistakes second-liners Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya had made in the month leading up to the Olympic Break, notably some giveaways and silly penalties that certainly didn’t help even if they couldn’t be attributed to the losses, the overall play by the Swedish duo this season has been steady and solid.
As for the rest – Sheldon Brookbank, Nick Leddy, et al – even though they may not be terribly consistent, they generally get the job done. They don’t have to be superstars, so long as they can play well enough to let the top D-men rest between shifts.
This is one of the reasons why it can be annoying to hear people dump on Michal Rozsíval. Yes, he is a bit older and slower than some of the others, but he’s not completely useless. He can score goals, and make key plays when it matters most. He did well in the playoffs last year, and provided he stays healthy, there is really no reason why he cannot do the same this year.
Last, but not least, consider that the Blackhawks will have three of their defensemen in the Gold Medal Game tomorrow. It’s the silver lining to what has been a disappointing Olympics for some of our other players.
Blackhawks fans, what do you think? What grade would you give the team’s defense at the Olympic break?