Yes, I’m back again to talk about the Chicago Blackhawks defense. With the trade deadline having long since come and gone, the Blackhawks aren’t in much of a position to fortify their defense without making a move within their system. Unfortunately, there aren’t too many options for that, either.
Friday against the Dallas Stars, the Blackhawks defense was exposed time and again as Corey Crawford was unable to stem the tide. It’s something the defense has grown accustomed to, as Crow is having a career year while the defenders in front of him have struggled to consistently keep the puck away from their net.
Against the Stars, no one was really immune to trouble. Duncan Keith and Niklas Hjalmarsson were two of the few Blackhawks in the red in Corsi-for (a product of their zone starts, no doubt). Brent Seabrook couldn’t keep up with the faster (than him) Stars, Erik Gustafsson appeared to be suffering from inconsistent playing time, Trevor van Riemsdyk was caught watching and Christian Ehrhoff … existed? He’s a more offensively capable Michal Rozsival, who’s dealing with an injury.
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But it’s not just the blueliners, although they’re a big part of it. Opposing teams are getting too many good looks at Crow/Scott Darling, with the Blackhawks often conceding neutral ice a little too easily for my liking. The forwards and defensemen have also been slow to pick up on plays that aren’t straightforward, such as when the puck starts bouncing around at or below their own circles. It’s how Tyler Seguin managed Dallas’ third goal Friday.
We ultimately have to go back to the guys paid to specifically play defense, though. And there are a number of issues we can see with the advanced stats of the Blackhawks defensemen.
The Corsi-for numbers (CF%) just aren’t pretty across the board. Ehrhoff’s stats will continue to be skewed due to his high percentage of offensive zone starts (ZSO%), as will those of Gustafsson. Keith’s rate is obviously impressive considering his zone starts, and Hjammer’s rate is never going to be impressive due to his. The numbers for the bottom four guys on that list, considering their zone starts, should be much better. And that lack of defensive depth so far as guys who are able to possess the puck and move it, is something that’s hurting the Blackhawks.
Looking at high-danger scoring chances, no Blackhawk except Ehrhoff (whose stats span two teams this season) has been on the ice for more high-ranger scoring chances for (HSCF) than against (HSCA) this season.
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As far as shots attempted while the defensemen are on the ice, TVR sees a violent difference in the ones created for the Blackhawks while he’s on the ice (SF) versus the ones that go against the team (SA). Seabrook, who has offensively-tilted zone starts, barely has seen more shots for the team than shots against while on the ice. Same thing goes for Gustafsson, while Keith and Hjammer’s numbers are always going to be a little weird considering the situations they’re put in.
Unfortunately, there’s no easy way to fix all of these things, and the only real option from within, Viktor Svedberg, wouldn’t be much of an improvement over anyone currently in the lineup. Basically, the Blackhawks need their defensemen to step up moving forward, but they also need more defensive support from their forwards. Will this damage some of their offensive chances? Potentially. But General Manager Stan Bowman went into the trade deadline knowing that acquiring a game-changing defenseman was going to be difficult, so he stocked up on offense. It should still be able to put plenty of pucks in the net while adding extra support to a beleaguered blueline.