It wasn’t the prettiest of performances, but the Chicago Blackhawks pulled out a 3-0 win over the Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday. How did the oft-maligned defense look? Let’s discuss that now.
Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford stopped 35 of 35 shots in a 3-0 win for the Blackhawks over Philadelphia on Wednesday, snapping Chicago’s three-game losing streak.
With that headline, you’d figure the Chicago defense was its typical struggling self. But I don’t necessarily believe that was the case. I think it was far more of a mixed bag than anything. So there are some good and some bad things to talk about.
Chicago rolled with the defensive pairings of Duncan Keith–Cody Franson, Jan Rutta–Brent Seabrook and Michal Kempny–Connor Murphy. These were caused by the combination of a Gustav Forsling injury and general defensive ineffectiveness during the losing streak.
Let’s take a closer look at how these groupings did.
I was pretty pleased with the way this pairing performed. It looked like Keith was actually able to play his game without Seabrook dragging him down, and I think Franson was a positive addition to the top pairing.
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The main concern heading into Wednesday’s game was both guys having a penchant for jumping in on offense. Therefore, who would stick back to cover the defensive zone if play got turned around?
More often than not, it wound up being Franson on this night. And I didn’t see any egregious errors from him in this regard, even coming up with a nice ankle shot block to kill off a Philly 2-on-1 attack.
The duo led all Blackhawks in possession at even-strength last night, with Keith carrying a 61.11 Corsi-for mark and Franson checking in at 62.96. While they were out for more offensive-zone possessions than not, this is a solid development considering the Blackhawks were barely above 40 percent as a team in both the first and third periods.
Franson is also proving useful on the powerplay. He posted the primary assist on Chicago’s one conversion, quickly getting a shot on net that Artem Anisimov mopped up for a goal. Good stuff from this pairing, though it’ll be interesting to see how effective it is without last change.
There was plenty of consternation about this pairing, with Rutta on his off side and Seabrook looking pretty bad this season, and the advanced stats did little to make that disappear. But I didn’t think this pairing was all bad last night.
Seabrook used his stick effectively to assist Crow with some gnarly net-front Flyers bids, and Rutta was solid in covering for Seabrook’s lapses/lack of speed. While I don’t think the pairing allowed either guy much of a chance to do anything offensively, both guys seemed to respond well to playing alongside each other.
The more Rutta gets comfortable playing on his off side, the more likely this pairing can work long-term. I’m not sure there’s anything you can do to help Seabrook’s game at this point, outside giving him a 10-game breather or something. So whoever coach Joel Quenneville pairs with Seabs is going to be dragged down a bit.
The possession numbers show as much, with Rutta carrying a 38.71 Corsi-for mark at evens. That dropped his season-long number to 49.39. Additionally, Rutta was on the ice for 12 high-danger scoring chances against, while Seabrook was on the ice for nine.
Da Windy City
For a pairing that contains a guy who can move the puck out of dangerous areas with his skating and passing and another guy who is seen is a defensive defenseman, I didn’t feel like this pairing did a whole lot to prevent opposing chances.
But then I look at the advanced stats, and they show Kempny and Murphy being on the ice for just one high-danger scoring chance against. I think there’s points to be taken from both the eye test and the advanced stats here.
We’ll start at the first period. This pairing was egregiously bad at that point, giving up the aforementioned high-danger bid when Kempny chipped in too low on the offensive zone and Murphy overpursued a Flyer along the boards, leading to a clean breakaway. The two almost gave up another clean break later in the period, but Philadelphia botched a breakout pass.
Things got somewhat better in the second and third periods, but Q kept throwing the duo out behind the second line of Brandon Saad–Nick Schmaltz–Patrick Kane. I noticed Saad having to continually backcheck very hard to prevent odd-man rushes for Philly. When one of your forwards is stopping more opposing rushes than the two defensemen on the ice, you have an issue.
And while those high-danger chances suggest Kempny and Murphy were OK in the end, the possession stats tell a very different story. Yes, neither guy is known for offensive prowess. But Corsi-for marks of 26.67 and 29.41 at even strength just isn’t going to cut it.
If Q is going to keep using this pairing, he at least needs to not put it behind the second line. Only Saad is adept at recovering possession if the forwards lose it, and right now, Kempny and Murphy haven’t shown too adept at stopping opposing possessions.
I get wanting to have the offensive dynamos in Keith and Franson behind the top line, and it was a generally effective strategy. But you’re going to give up way too many chances against with a second line/third pairing combo. So either split the parties or split the pairing.
I’d say things went about the way you’d expect if you didn’t consider who was on the first, second and third defensive pairings. What I mean by that is, the top pairing was clearly the best one, and the second was probably a bit better than the third.
While the Blackhawks didn’t give up any goals Wednesday, that doesn’t mean the defense was spotless. Crow was still seeing too many high-danger chances. But for a team that had lost three straight, you let your defensemen look at that bagel on the scoreboard and try to build off it.
I will say that, while these three pairings had their faults, I think the defense was improved by Forsling not playing on it. I don’t think the Blackhawks should give up on the young Swede, but he’s been pretty bad to start this season. I contend he’d be the worst Blackhawks defenseman so far if it wasn’t for Seabrook.
Next for the Blackhawks is the Minnesota Wild on Saturday. The Wild are off to a rugged start and have the fourth-worst 5-on-5 possession mark in the league as of right now (the Blackhawks are 11th-worst). So this could be just what the doctor ordered, and hopefully it means the defense is able to gain some more confidence as Q tries to solidify the pairings.