May 27, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith (2) clears the puck from in front of goalie Corey Crawford (50) with Anaheim Ducks left wing Patrick Maroon (19) looking on during the third period in game six of the Western Conference Final of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs at the United Center. Chicago won 5-2. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
The ’Hawks defensemen are better. This article won’t focus so much on the forwards from both sides, as we could be here for a few days talking about them. So let’s glance at the defensemen and goaltenders. Starting with the back six, we’re going to continue hearing about the ’Hawks icing four defensemen every night because Q doesn’t have great trust in David Rundblad/Kyle Cumiskey/Kimmo Timonen/maybe Trevor Van Riemsdyk, and because the top four of Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya can handle the extended minutes. But that doesn’t mean the ’Hawks are at a disadvantage on the back end. Tampa’s defensive unit may be better than Anaheim’s, but that isn’t saying much.
Victor Hedman is at the top of Tampa’s defense, taking on the opponent’s toughest forwards and clocking in at 24:19 in average ice time. That doesn’t sound like much to Chicago fans, but Hedman sees nearly 2½ more minutes of ice per game than anyone else on his team. He’s a big boy at 6-foot-6, and he has a solid puck possession figure for these playoffs (55.04 percent), but he doesn’t exactly fill up the net from the blue line (one goal and 10 points in 20 games) and will have to be at his best while chasing Toews, Saad and either Kane or Hossa. Otherwise, they’ll burn him like they’ve burned many defensemen before him. Anton Stralman is the No. 2 defenseman, and he has similar stats to those of partner Hedman in these playoffs. It is worth noting that both receive more offensive zone starts than defensive, so that boosts their possession figures.
And then things start to tail off. Cooper has made it a habit in these playoffs to dress seven defensemen (and not in the Q style where one ends up replacing a real forward for an entire game), but none of them are particularly threatening. Only Nikita Nesterov is above 50 percent in possession (57.56 percent), but he averaged barely 10 minutes of ice time against New York and has Timonen-like zone-start stats (i.e. he gets hidden in the offensive end). Andrej Sustr gets so-so starts and has actually been OK despite being one vowel short of a real last name. He has 12 assists and a 49.97 possession percentage this postseason. Meanwhile…
- Carle in these playoffs has three points, a 46.83 Corsi-for percentage and can’t get out of his own defensive zone.
- Jason Garrison in these playoffs has three points, a 41.46 Corsi-for percentage and might still be stuck in his own defensive zone as we speak.
- Coburn in these playoffs has two points, doesn’t know the offensive zone exists and carries one of the ugliest possession numbers ever typed at 38.97 percent.
We all know what the ’Hawks bring to the table, Keith has pushed offensive possessions beautifully from the back end and has done his defensive duty. Seabrook has had a quietly great postseason, while Hjalmarsson and Oduya have taken their tough zone starts and made them into lemonade. Cumiskey and Rundblad have been serviceable in their limited minutes, and they aren’t seeing as crazy of one-sided zone starts as Nesterov for Tampa. Chicago may be relying on a top four, but it’s hard to argue Tampa is relying on anything other than a top two and a half or three.