Another brick in the wall
Since returning to Chicago in a trade deadline deal with Dallas, 35-year-old defenseman Johnny Oduya has fit-in like an old shoe and solidified the Blackhawks blue line with his tenacious play and veteran presence. And in the last two wins against Montreal and Ottawa, coach Quenneville has fielded what looks to be the most effective defensive pairings we’ve seen this season:
Duncan Keith – Niklas Hjalmarsson; Johnny Oduya – Brent Seabrook; Brian Campbell – Trevor van Riemsdyk.
This lineup features an envious balance of eye-popping defensive skill and serious scoring potential. Hammer and Oduya blocked nine shots against Ottawa, while Keith and Seabrook launched five shots at goalie Mike Condon, including Keith’s ice-breaking goal in the third-period. At Montreal, Oduya scored to give the ‘Hawks a 2-0 lead, Hammer added an assist, and Seabs had seven(!) blocked shots.
On the season, Campbell and TVR have a rating of plus-18 and plus-17 respectively, good for 2nd and 3rd highest on the team. Keith is playing at his very best right now, showing the kind of astonishing speed and stickwork that make him the league’s best all-around defenseman.
With Michal Kempny and Michal Rozsival on-call for depth and options, this defensive lineup is looking like the one the Blackhawks want to ride into the playoffs.
Oh my Darling
In another spectacular outing, Scott Darling stopped 33 of 34 shots against the Senators for his fifth straight win and 17th of the season. Darling stopped all 28 shots at even-strength, and his 93.3 save percentage now leads the NHL among all goalies with at least 20 starts. Coming back from two weeks off with a hand injury, Darling appeared to be 100 percent, making save after save with exceptional rebound control.
With Chicago playing their last 12 regular season games in a span of just 24 days, Darling should see plenty more work. If he and Corey Crawford can both stay healthy, the Blackhawks will enter the playoffs with the best goaltending tandem in the league.