Apr 7, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks defensemanDavid Rundblad
(5) shoots the puck against the Minnesota Wild during the first period at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports
After stringing together three great wins, our beloved Chicago Blackhawks have now dropped two straight contests, with two games left to go in the 2014-2015 regular season. Yes, the Hawks have secured a seventh consecutive playoff slot and yes they have a viable chance of winning the Central Division, but this shouldn’t mask their perhaps most critical deficiency, which they now must fix at the eleventh hour over the span of two outings.
Once again, I’m talking about the defense. The Blackhawks have boasted a very solid blue line squad for the majority of the season, but on the eve of the playoffs and in light of a fresh swath of injuries, it has become increasingly clear that the Blackhawks’ brass has put their team in a corner defensively-speaking, despite what the stats say.
The sad thing is we all know how we got here…It started with the decision in the offseason to keep Michal Rozsival and trade Nick Leddy. Then Trevor van Riemsdyk got injured, opening the door for Klas Dahlbeck and Adam Clendening to make their debuts as Blackhawks, whom many have touted as the Hawks’ future blue-line duo. Alas, despite decent showing, both ended up on the trading block. On top of that, Jeremy Morin was traded from Tim Erixon, who was eventually waived, which means the Hawks essentially gave up one of their most promising prospects for absolutely nothing. Finally, Kimmo Timonen was brought in for an afterthought in his long career and what was hoped to be a known quantity, but surprisingly, the 40 year-old defensemen has recently sustained an upper body injury with no timetable yet set for his return.
It’s hard to tell where blame begins and ends with Hawks GM Stan Bowman and Coach Joel Quenneville, but now, after this impromptu defensive ranks purge, the Blackhawks are entering the playoffs with a slow Michal Rozsival and inexperienced David Rundblad (and to a lesser extent Kyle Cumiskey) as the only viable fifth and six defensemen, and a whole lot of question marks at the blue line. Needless to say, this isn’t a good situation.
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So what’s the solution? Well, it’s multi-faceted…
The silver lining here and the reason for the Hawks attaining such high defensive rankings this season in the first place is the sensational play of the top four defensemen: Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Johnny Oduya, and Niklas Hjalmarsson. These tandems unfortunately have not had the chance to remain at their most effective for the second half of the season because Coach Q disassembled them in an effort to address the issues plaguing the third-line defense. So part one of the solution is to reunite the top four blue liners.
The second part of the solution unfortunately gets a bit uglier, and that is to make Rundblad the pivot point on a rotation involving Rozsival and Cumiskey (at least until Timonen returns from injury) on the third defensive string. This certainly isn’t ideal, and opposing teams will identify this weak spot in the line-up quickly and try to exploit it, but the Blackhawks are out of options and need to play out the hand they’ve been dealt defensively as best they can.
The rationale behind this solution is two-fold: While it’s hard to admit, Rozsival has made some great plays this season, but the mistakes he’s made (i.e. blind clears, getting caught out of position, etc.) have predominantly been fatigue-related. Additionally, Rundblad has shown he’s got decent athletic ability, but the mistakes he’s made have related to his novice experience. Therefore, the best option is to get Rundblad as much ice-time as possible to put his learning curve on the fast track, and keep Rozsival (as well as Timonen) as fresh as possible.
This solution will take a great leapt of faith from Q-stache, so don’t hold your breath. Once again however, the Blackhawks are in a corner defensively, and sometimes the worst option is the best option you got.
FOR THE DAGGER!
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