Jan 28, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Chicago Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford (50) in the goal after a goal by the Los Angeles Kings in the third period of the game at Staples Center. Kings won 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
Statistically, our beloved Chicago Blackhawks still have a top ranked defense in the NHL, but if you’ve watched their last four games, you’d appreciate how figurative the word “still” is in that statement.
Yes it’s the dog days of the season and the Blackhawks may understandably be a bit lacking in any pertinent motivation, but true champions always hold themselves to the highest standard, and right now the Hawks are falling short of what they are capable of, plain and simple.
While the offense has its own hiccups to overcome, the more critical issue at this juncture is the defensive corp. The Hawks’ defense played outstanding at the beginning of the season, but come 2015 the wheels have all but come off. Coach Joel Quenneville hitting the dreaded line blender in the defensive ranks in mid-January is a clear indicator there’s a problem.
This problem on defense needs to be fixed and fixed now. While the Hawks are in a relatively cozy spot in the standings, it’s a statistical fact that any team that wants to win the Stanley Cup needs to have a top 5 defense in the NHL, period. While the Hawks had a tremendous post season run last year when they were 14th overall defensively in the NHL, they were eliminated in the Western Conference Finals because they couldn’t defend a two goal lead.
Thus, while we don’t need to hit panic regarding the defense, its plastic case should certainly be lifted. Luckily there is still plenty of time in the regular season to remedy what ails the Blackhawks’ blue line. Here are three potential solutions:
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#3 – Restore the Lines
True to form, Coach Q switched up his lines in response to the perceived defensive deficiencies after the Blackhawks dropped two straight games to the Dallas Stars and Winnipeg Jets in January. Obviously however, the solution proved to be short lived, as the Hawks have been 3-3 since the defensive shakeup. Frankly, I feel Q-Stache jumped the gun. The Hawks’ top defensive pairs of Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook and Johnny Oduya and Niklas Hjalmarsson have played lights out for bulk of the season. The saying if it ain’t broke don’t fix it holds some water here, and just because the wagon hit a bump in the road doesn’t mean it needed new wheels. While changing up the defensive pairings may be necessary from time to time, at this point it’s been proven beyond a doubt that Dunc and Seabs and Hammer and Oduya play the best in their respective tandems. If the Hawks want to get their defense back on track, returning to the tried and true is the first step.
Dec 11, 2014; Boston, MA, USA; Chicago Blackhawks right wing Patrick Kane (88) is congratulated by defenseman Klas Dahlbeck (44) after scoring a goal during the second period against the Boston Bruins at TD Banknorth Garden. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
#2 – Bring in Fresh Blue-Liners
In the wake of Trevor van Riemsdyk’s injury we’ve had some solid looks at some of the Blackhawks’ farm system defensemen. Adam Clendening and Klas Dahlbeck’s NHL debuts may not have blown anyone away, but they were encouraging (and apparently enabled Clendening to become quite marketable). The question is why did this stop in January? Bringing in new players not only shakes things up, but also provides a degree of revitalization to the regular roster because new blood means new competition. We all know how hard the Blackhawks roster is for players to crack, and even the remote chance of a rookie stealing ice time from a regular is enough to spark the Hawks’ collective competitive spirit. The Rockford IceHogs certainly have other defenseman besides Klas Dahlbeck to bring up for brief stints. Touted prospect Stephen Johns or the 6’9” Viktor Svedberg could really prove to reignite the Hawks defensive ranks, not to mention the fan-base. At the very least, while such recalls would be little more than keeping TVR’s spot warm, now would be a great time for the Blackhawks to get one last look at what’s in their defensive tool box before they are on the final stretch to the postseason.
Feb 3, 2015; Saint Paul, MN, USA; Chicago Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville looks on during the second period against the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center. The Wild defeated the Blackhawks 3-0. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
#1 – Make Use of the Bench, Literally
What I’m talking about here is accountability. The Blackhawks have seven serviceable defensemen for six defensive positions. This means there is always going to be someone riding the proverbial pine in the press box, and this inevitability needs to be flexed a whole lot more. Some of the Blackhawks’ blue-liners are a bit more culpable here than others, but for a man with a notorious dog house, Coach Q needs to be heavier handed when it comes to holding the Hawks defensive corp. accountable for subpar play. Getting caught out of position, losing one-on-one board battles in the defensive end, and other rudimentary mistakes have no place on an aspiring Stanley Cup champion team, and Quenneville needs to make it known to his defensemen that if they let such errors occur on the ice, they won’t see it for a while.
These measures may seem unnecessary, but there’s a reason the saying offensive wins, games defense wins championships is even in our sports vernacular. The Blackhawks have had a top tier defense for the majority of the season. Now is the time to solidify it and their chances of bringing Lord Stanley home to Chicago.
FOR THE DAGGER!