One of the big questions for the Chicago Blackhawks going into this year was their defense. Also, how would the defensive pairings match up? Through two games so far, they have played a physical style and have been active in the offensive play.
The Chicago Blackhawks parted ways in the offseason with assistant coach Mike Kitchen. Kitchen was an assistant with the Blackhawks for seven years and part of two Stanley Cup championships. After a horrible start with the penalty kill last season, capped with an early exit from the playoffs, Kitchen became one of the casualties after the season.
Samuelsson spent last year as the head coach of the AHL affiliate of the Carolina Hurrcianes, the Charlotte Checkers. Prior to that, he was an assistant coach with the New York Rangers for four years.
He’s already changed the look of the penalty kill by making the team more aggressive while short-handed. The Blackhawks have killed 3 of 4 penalties so far. The one goal given up was on a 5-on-3 man advantage.
Although it is early in the season, let’s take a look at how Quenneville has paired his defensemen and how they have fared.
First pairing -— Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook
Keith and Seabrook have been reunited as the top defensive unit to start the season. They’ve spent the last 13 seasons together, so needless to say they have chemistry between one another.
Being the top unit, they gather top minutes. Keith is currently averaging 23:06 of TOI and Seabrook a respectable 21:27. But, for both of them, those minutes are low. They both have a plus-4 rating as well.
Seabrook, after a disappointing season last year with only three goals, has already netted one this year to go along with two assists. Keith has an assist already as well. Both have played well at even strength and while shorthanded.
Second pairing — Gustav Forsling and Jan Rutta
Yes, this is correct. The second pairing for the Blackhawks this year has been Forsling and Rutta. They have the logged the second-most minutes of ice time (Forsling 19:14, Ruuta 19:59).
Forsling, 21, spent 38 games with the Blackhawks last year in his rookie year and collected five points. He already has two assists in the first two games to go with a plus-6 rating this year.
Rutta, 27, is in his first NHL season, although you would not know it based on how he has played to this point. He has two points with a plus-7 rating in two games. Rutta, was an offseason recruit who came from the Czech Republic. No one expected him to have the start that he has, although he had a very good preseason.
Both Forsling and Rutta have logged minutes on the powerplay and the penalty kill and have looked good together to this point.
Third pairing — Connor Murphy and Michal Kempny
The last pairing that Quenneville has put together at this year has been Murphy and Kempny. Murphy, 24, is entering his fifth year in the NHL. His physical presence has been seen as he has seven hits to start the season.
His ice time has been less than it was while with the Arizona Coyotes, (15:58 avg. TOI), but he is in a position where the Blackhawks have not put pressure on him to perform at a top level. They know he has the talent and are willing to wait till his game comes to where the team needs it to be.
Kempny, 27, is in his second year with the Blackhawks. He appeared in 50 games last year with eight points and a plus-1 rating. Kempny has an assist and a plus-2 rating to start the year, but his play has been solid. He is averaging 16:04 of ice time.
For a third pairing to average nearly 16 minutes a piece shows that Quenneville has a solid set of defensemen he can roll out at any time.
Two other defensemen are on the roster are veteran Cody Franson and Jordan Oesterle. Neither has seen a game yet, but having them at the ready shows the depth on which this team has been built. Together, they are younger and bigger. Teams will think twice before entering their zone.
Two games do not define a season, but against two powerful teams like the Penguins and the Blue Jackets, to give up one goal against each team is saying something. The Blackhawks are two games into a stretch of eight games against high-caliber teams. After those games have been completed, we will see how well this team has become defensively.