As of this post, our beloved Chicago Blackhawks have gone 2-1-2 in their last five outings. While this isn’t a terrible record, and the ‘Hawks have all but locked up the top seed in the Central Division, these games have raised some causes for concern in one area: defense.
Over their last five contests, the Blackhawks have surrendered an appalling 22 goals, 12 of which came during their last two games in Florida. Now maybe you can chalk this up to slightly less aggressive play due to the current standings and amount of time left in the regular season, but we all know defense wins championships, and if the ‘Hawks want to raise Lord Stanley’s Cup again, their blue line needs to be as sharp as possible, and frankly, the way their defensive corp. is playing now isn’t exactly reassuring.
When Johnny Oduya came back to Chicago, many ‘Hawks fans, myself especially, hailed his return. With Oduya donning the indian-head sweater once more, he’d be able to reunite with fellow defensemen Brent Seabrook, Duncan Keith, and Niklas Hjalmarsson and reestablish the Big Four on the Blackhawks blue line; a defensive combination that helped the ‘Hawks win two Stanley Cups.
More importantly, Oduya’s return meant that Seabrook would be able to return to his rightful place alongside Keith on the first line, instead of floundering on the lower lines with a turnstile on defensive partners that were noticeably degrading his gameplay.
However, as we all know, things didn’t quite work out like we expected.
While Duncs and Seabs skated alongside each other for a few games, before we knew it, once again Hjalmarsson and Keith were paired on the first line, with Seabrook and Oduya playing on the second line.
While these line combinations were unexpected, they kind of made sense, kind of… Dunc and Seabs are offensively-minded defensemen and Hammer and Oduya are more stay-at-home/shutdown blueliners. Naturally having the best of both worlds for two of your defensive tandems would be a good move, right? 22 goals allowed over five games says otherwise…
The key issue here is Brent Seabrook. Suffice it to say ever since he’s been denied consistently playing with Duncs, his play has suffered. The reason for this has been the lack of a consistent linemate. Hockey defensemen rely on each other heavily in order to play their top game, so if they are not able to establish chemistry with their blue line partner, their play is hampered.
Case in point, Keith and Hjalmarsson’s play hasn’t taken a hit over the past year and half because they have been consistently paired with one another, whereas Seabrook has had to skate alongside Trevor van Riemsdyk, Michal Kempny, Erik Gustafsson, and now Johnny Oduya.
This constant defensive partner rotation hinders the necessary synergy from forming for both defensemen to play at their highest level.
This was the fate that befell Nick Leddy while he was on the Blackhawks. The constant rotation of Sheldon Brookbank and Michal Rozsival on the third line prevented Leddy from forming a solid defensive identity, to the point that the Blackhawks were willing to part ways with him after the 2013 season. Now, Coach Joel Quenneville has put Seabrook on the same tragic road.
You could argue that Seabrook and Oduya just need some more time to form an effective defensive bond, but time is something the Blackhawks are quickly running out of as the playoffs loom closer by the day.
While it may take them a few games to get their groove back, being offensively-minded defensemen, Seabrook and Keith’s minds are akin, enabling them to rekindle their proven chemistry faster. The same goes for the more defensively-minded Oduya and Hjalmarsson.
The bottom line is, the aforementioned defensive line combinations have helped the Blackhawks win two Stanley Cups in the past. Why try to fix something that’s not broken? Reunite the Big Four now!
FOR THE DAGGER!