Chicago Blackhawks: Time to Call in the Rockford Calvary!

By Tim Lively

May 19, 2015; Anaheim, CA, USA; Anaheim Ducks right wing Kyle Palmieri (21) takes the puck away from Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Kimmo Timonen (44) during the first period in game two of the Western Conference Final of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Honda Center. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

If you’re like most Hawks fans, you’re probably reading this article through one blood-shut eye and on a stomach full of antacids (but with a smile on your face), as last night, our beloved Chicago Blackhawks, true to their form in not making it easy on their fans, hammered out yet another win in triple overtime against the Anaheim Ducks.

The game was quite reminiscent of the mutli-OT Game 1 of the 2013 Stanley Cup Finals between the Blackhawks and the Boston Bruins where the Hawks also grinded out a W. The problem is this isn’t the Stanley Cup Finals yet, and the Hawks have a grueling seven more wins to go before they can once again hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup.

This ordinarily wouldn’t necessarily be a concern, as the Hawks have time again proved their resolve and endurance, but this time around there is a bit of problem…

I never thought I’d say this, but I actually miss Michal Rozsival. Yes he’s certainly deserved his share of scrutiny for being slow and taking bad penalties during the regular season, but he was having a very good post season and was playing a decent amount of minutes. At the very least, the Hawks are certainly missing his big body against the bruising Ducks.

However Rozsival’s probably career-ending injury has made the Blackhawks’ one weakness all the more glaring and all the more devastating: the third line defense. The Blackhawks’ brass had all season to establish a reliable and effective third line pairing on the blue line, but instead, they opted to trade away Nick Leddy in the offseason, as well as up-and-comers Klas Dahlbeck and Adam Clendening at the trade deadline for minor offensive upgrades…and Kimmo Timonen; a 40-year-old defenseman whom it’s becoming abundantly clear is satisfied with little more than riding the Blackhawks’ coat tails to a Stanley Cup before he finishes his career.

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Timonen may have a decorated playing career, but at this point, whatever upside he may have has yet to be seen, and it’s definitely absent against the Ducks. To put it politely, Anaheim has been absolutely man-handling Timonen. His short size and age makes Timonen a prime weakness for the Hawks the Ducks have wasted no time trying to exploit.

Getting knocked around in this series wouldn’t be such a big deal (see Shaw, Andrew), but the far worse aspect of Timonen is the miniscule amount of minutes he plays in comparison to the other Hawks’ defensemen. Last night, in nearly two games worth of periods, Timonen only mustered a team low 16:45 of ice time (at a close second was Timonen’s fellow third stringer Kyle Cumiskey at 18:34).

Coach Joel Quenneville’s answer to compensating for the third line defense’s deficiencies in the post season has been riding the Hawks’ Big Four defensemen (Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Johnny Oduya, and Niklas Hjalmarsson) all but into the ground. Let’s just say I’d tell you their cumulative minutes from last night’s game, but I failed calculus.

Between the copious amounts of OT the Hawks have played thus far this post season, and drawing the very big and very physical Anaheim Ducks in the Western Conference Finals, the Big Four can’t carry the entire weight of the blue line anymore (though we know they would try), period! The good news however, is that this has already dawned on Coach Q, as he’s called in reinforcements.

Going into last night’s game, there were several recalls from the Rockford IceHogs that were relatively under the radar: forwards Phillip Danault and Ryan Hartman, and defensemen Ville Pokka and Viktor Svedberg.

These players may not be familiar to most Hawks fans (at least now), but there’s two things they all have in common: their age and their size. All of these farm system players are under the age of 24, and with the slight exception of Ryan Hartman (191 lbs.), weigh over 200 lbs.

Sep 19, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Viktor Svedberg (43) battles for the puck with Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87) during the first period at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports

With all of the forward lines humming relatively well, I can’t imagine Q-Stache would be rotating Danault or Hartman in for any reason other than injury relief. Pokka and Svedberg however are another story.

While Timonen’s age and size are likely why he’s seeing so little ice time, when it comes to the 28-year old Kyle Cumiskey, you have to wonder why he’s not being better utilized to at least eat up some minutes from the Big Four. The fact of the matter is unfortunately, while he didn’t make any glaring errors last night, like David Rundblad before him, Cumiskey’s 5’ 11” 180 lbs. frame was tossed around by the big-bodied Ducks’ forwards. Enter Pokka and Svedberg…

While neither of these defensemen have any NHL playing experience, they should more than make up for it in stature, literally. Villa Pokka tips the scales at 6’ 214 lbs. and Viktor Svedberg is literally a “Mountain who Skates” at 6’ 8” 238 lbs.

While both these defensemen will commit their share of inevitable rookie mistakes, they will at least not be prone to getting muscled off the puck, and will give the Hawks’ D outside of Seabrook (who’s a marked man as it is) the much-needed ability to effectively respond to the Ducks’ physical harassment. Not to mention their youth is a potential asset in reducing the Big Four’s shifts. These big blue-liners won’t win any games for the Blackhawks, nor is any one expecting them to, but at the very least they’ll bring a new dynamic to the Hawks’ defense.

The question now is when these Rockford recalls will see the ice. With Coach Q, we know it’s anyone’s guess, but at this point, it doesn’t matter if he trusts them or not because to put it bluntly, the Hawks are out of options. The Big Four can’t keep turning and burning at their current rate, so the best thing now with Timonen a bust and Cumiskey and Rundblad non-factors is for Quenneville to best play out the bad defensive hand he and Stan Bowman have dealt the Blackhawks.


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