Analysis

Chicago Blackhawks Roundtable: Defensive Alignment And Shootout Lineup

By Colin Likas
CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 12: Jan Rutta
CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 12: Jan Rutta /
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CHICAGO, IL – DECEMBER 17: Brent Seabrook
CHICAGO, IL – DECEMBER 17: Brent Seabrook /

Tim Martens

Question 1: Right now, I would say you need to stick with what has been working of late, which is Keith-Oesterle, Kempny-Seabrook, Forsling-Murphy. Keith and Seabrook are the obvious two, but Forsling and Murphy have all but cemented their place in this lineup of late.

Both have played extremely well and have been a nice surprise over the last few weeks as reliable defensemen who have been able to move the puck and exit the zone efficiently. Oesterle has looked very good since coming back into the lineup this past week and has actually given a spark to the offense with good puck movement in the offensive zone and speed on the ice.

Michal Kempny, to me, is the most skilled and has the highest potential of any of the remaining defensemen and has shown he has a monster shot and good possession numbers.

Essentially, (with only seven goals given up over the last five games, and only one in each of the last two important divisional games) if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Question 2: Well first, let me say how important it is that the ‘Hawks try to avoid the shootout as much as they can. At the end of the year, the first tiebreaker is ROW (regulation/overtime wins). Winning the game before shootout is the very first tiebreaker, and in the event the Blackhawks are tied in points with another team for a playoff spot, you will want to have that tiebreaker.

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But in the event the ‘Hawks need the shootout to win the second point of the game, I think these three should go out:

Jonathan Toews – Maybe not the first guy that comes to mind, Toews is 43 for 87 lifetime at the shootout, or 49.4 percent. For reference, Kane (who seems like the obvious first choice for the ‘Hawks) is 31 for 88 lifetime.

Patrick Kane – Seemingly the easiest choice as the most dynamic and creative goal scorer on the team, Kane has actually only scored on two of his last nine penalty shots and nine of his last 31. But his skill is undeniable, and he has to get the call during a shootout.

Alex DeBrincat – A player who finds the net very effectively and has a strong stick-handling skillset, The Cat should get his chance to shine in the shootout.

Steve Yatsushiro

Question 1: Right now, this configuration is working and should stay put:

Keith-Oesterle
Forsling-Murphy
Kempny-Seabrook

For a while, it appeared Duncan Keith was the only lock on defense. But with the current pairings, the defense has suddenly looked like a legitimate corps of capable players.

While Cody Franson had slotted in well with Keith, he is still not the fastest skater and has nothing to prove. What is more important is the development of the young defensemen Jan Rutta, Jordan Oesterle, Michal Kempny and Gustav Forsling.

The goal is to get this team ready for the playoffs. The ‘Hawks could elect to stick with Franson with the idea of winning more regular-season games, but Franson would get exposed in the playoffs. Franson doesn’t need ice time to develop, he already is what he is. He’s a great insurance policy in case the younger guys just don’t pan out.

Oesterle has suddenly become a hot item. Since being inserted into the line up for the injured Franson, he has put up these numbers in four games: two assists, two points, a plus-6 rating, zero penalty minutes, nine shots on goal, four hits, five blocked shots, three giveaways and an average time on ice of 20:05.

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Against the Coyotes, he had a memorable keep-in resulting in a slick shot on goal, and later assisted on Tommy Wingels’ goal with a quick rush up the ice. In the game against the Wild, he executed a perfect stretch pass to Patrick Kane for a breakaway goal. And in his recent string of four games, the ‘Hawks have outscored their opponents 15-5 for four victories.

Once considered simply a depth option, he is forcing some tough decisions on roster spots with his quickness, heavy shot and good chemistry with Keith. Stick with him unless he regresses to mediocrity.

Forsling just keeps improving game by game. He’s been tracking down pucks in the defensive zone and clearing the zone with either rushes or good passes. He’s even looked strong in board battles and forcing the play to the perimeter. His contributions in the offensive zone have been noticed with more sustained puck possession. There’s no way he can be taken out of the line up at this point.

Rutta has been one of the bright spots during the bad defensive stretch. He had been playing with Forsling in what was becoming the shutdown pair, but had started to commit some errors just before he was injured.

It’s a tough call to sit him when he returns from his injury, but somehow the current defensive configuration is clicking. He can still be platooned with Oesterle on the top pair when more size is desired. He’s also waiver exempt, so he could be sent to Rockford on a conditioning stint to keep him fresh.

Murphy impressed everyone with his play on his offhand side on left defense with Brent Seabrook. Now playing back on the right side with Forsling, his physical presence is a great compliment to his slick-skating partner. He’s been effective beside the net clearing the high danger area near Crawford. With some big hits, he has opponents distracted by being on the lookout for him.

Kempny continues to flash his raw physical talent. After a bonehead play way back on Nov. 12 against the Devils, he was scratched until the Jets game. Upon returning to the lineup, he has put up these numbers in two games: one goal, one point, a plus-2 rating, zero penalty minutes, four shots on goal, one hit, two blocked shots, one giveaway and an average time on ice of 15:36.

His goal in the Jets game was a laser of a shot that opened a lot of eyes. The heavy shot comes with a superior ability to walk the blue line with the puck and solid pinching in to sustain play. His physical play even earned rare praise from Coach Q in his postgame comments. Kempny needs ice time to focus his skating ability and physical presence into sustained high quality play.

Seabrook has been much more effective with reduced minutes. He currently is tied for the lead on the team in plus/minus rating at plus-10. Currently paired with the physical Kempny, he is looking more fresh and not committing unforced turnovers. He’s still a very good defenseman with the reduced minutes.

Question 2:

1) Patrick Kane. He is still the most creative shootout artist on the team. He has the ability to find goalies’ weaknesses and exploit them at will.
2) Patrick Sharp. In his last season before leaving for Dallas, he perfected the forehand-backhand shot and made it look easy.
3) Vinnie Hinostroza. He was lighting it up in Rockford with shootout winners just before rejoining the ‘Hawks.

Next: Blackhawks' Crawford Essential Since Injury Return

Notable absentee is Jonathan Toews, who seems to love the 5-hole just a little too much.

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