Analysis

Chicago Blackhawks 8-Man Defense Could Hurt Them Tonight

By Colin Likas
Nov 21, 2016; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Chicago Blackhawks forward Vinnie Hinostroza (48) skates against the Edmonton Oilers at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 21, 2016; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Chicago Blackhawks forward Vinnie Hinostroza (48) skates against the Edmonton Oilers at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports /
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Tonight’s game against the Colorado Avalanche does not promise to be a pretty affair for the Chicago Blackhawks

One last game before a three-day holiday break? That’ll generate some apathy. Playing that game against the NHL’s worst team in the Colorado Avalanche? Even more apathy. Possibly having to play this game with 11 forwards? That’s … something else entirely for the Chicago Blackhawks.

Colorado is coming off a brutal 6-0 loss yesterday to the Toronto Maple Leafs, and they’ll likely be looking to show they’re not a total embarrassment tonight. They’ve got a good setup for it, as the Blackhawks penchant for taking lightly bad teams and games ahead of breaks is well known.

What the Blackhawks didn’t need, however, was the potential for having just 11 forwards skating tonight. But when Vincent Hinostroza missed today’s morning skate due to what was later reported as an illness, that’s the situation the Blackhawks were presented with.

Defenseman Michal Kempny skated as the second-line center in practice, though he obviously didn’t play as one. According to the beats, Michal Rozsival projects as the seventh defenseman tonight with Hinostroza can’t go.

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Of course, this leads to the question of what coach Joel Quenneville will do with his forwards tonight if Hinostroza can’t suit up.

What 11 forwards would look like tonight

Since the start of this season, the Blackhawks have carried eight defensemen. I’ve been waiting for them to move one of the defensemen so they’re not so light at forward, but it’s yet to happen. And now it’s likely to cost Chicago, which is already missing two top-six forwards.

Marian Hossa and Artem Anisimov will not suit up tonight, which means the Blackhawks could be rolling with a true mish-mash of forwards. The top line of Artemi Panarin, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane will probably stay together and asked to skate a large portion of the game, in addition to providing as much offense as possible.

After that? Someone is getting double shifted. It’ll likely be either Marcus Kruger or Andrew Desjardins, both guys who would be capable of taking draws between Ryan Hartman and Tyler Motte. Regardless, the ice times are going to be wonky across the board.

Making matters worse is that Jordin Tootoo is still in the lineup. With Q’s penchant for rolling him less than seven minutes a night, that’s going to mean other forwards are getting even more worn down. Against a team like the Avs, one that has some dangerous speed, that’s not a great combo.

There’s also an outside chance one of the defensemen sees time at forward, especially if Desjardins ends up taking more of the centerman draws between Hartman and Motte. We’ve seen Q play a defenseman at forward in the past with Sheldon Brookbank.

If there’s one saving grace for Chicago tonight, it’s that starting goaltender Corey Crawford is back in the fold. He may need to carry this team, even against the sad-sack Avs.

When do Blackhawks make a change?

It’s not as though Chicago has been un-injured until just now. They’ve been dealing with forward injuries throughout the early portions of this season. And yet they continue to roll with eight defensemen instead of adding another forward.

It’s especially interesting when Tootoo is one of your forwards, and also when Desjardins is one of your forwards. Those guys have combined for a whopping zero points. Not zero goals … they haven’t done anything offensively. And the Blackhawks still think it’s good to play with 13 forwards instead of 14.

Now Desjardins has some value on the defensive end, but still. This roster management is sketchy with a fully healthy team. When guys start getting banged up like this? It’s suicidal.

Thankfully, the Blackhawks built up a nice base of points to sit on. Their 48 points are tied for the league lead (with Columbus, of all teams), so they can somewhat afford to roll a roster like this right now.

Next: Blackhawks' Kero Up, Anisimov On IR

But you’re not going to be able to say that as the season rolls on. Eventually, some defenseman is going to have to be moved for the better of the team. The Blackhawks appear content to audition their blueliners until they can’t safely do so anymore, though. With a tie for the league lead in points, I guess you can’t blame them.

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