Chicago Blackhawks: New Season, Same Defensive Struggles

The 2019-20 season is upon us. After two games, the story is still the same. The Chicago Blackhawks’ defense continues to struggle.

The Chicago Blackhawks are now two games into the 2019-20 NHL season. The offense has looked just as good as people expected, but the defense has held the team back. Even though it’s early, if they don’t fix the problem, this defense could keep Chicago out of the playoffs again.

After two games, the Chicago Blackhawks have made both the Philadelphia Flyers and the San Jose Sharks, a team that hasn’t had a lead in a single game this season, look like the best offensive teams in hockey. An 0-2-0 start isn’t exactly the end of the world, but after giving up nine goals in two games, with three of them coming on the penalty kill, there is room for concern.

The Flyers and the Sharks just walked in on Chicago and did everything they wanted to do. Corey Crawford‘s goaltending wasn’t very solid neither. He has given up too much too soon and added to the Blackhawks’ issues in both games.

I have personally been the toughest person on Brent Seabrook throughout the offseason, but his play so far has made me look like a genius. His performance against the Flyers was sluggish and it was a slow start for him. Off the rush, both Seabrook and Duncan Keith have looked worse than they did last year. It’s early in the year, so these guys should get better, but it’s never been this bad.

So far, the Blackhawks’ defensive pairings obviously aren’t working. From the outside looking in, there wasn’t enough room for anyone to play and the defense looked stacked.

After two games, it makes fans cry out for Adam Boqvist‘s call up, and to throw these lines into the blender and hope for something better. Right now, the defensive “starters” look lazy, so they could use some youth on defense.

The defensemen have had no problem showing up on offense. Erik Gustafsson, for example, has three assists in the first two games, he is tied with Patrick Kane for most points on the team. Kane will likely have more points to end the season, but that is worth looking at. Here are Gustafsson’s stats through the first two games of the 2019-20 season.

Regular Season Table
ScoringGoalsAssists
RkDateGAgeTmOppGAPTS+/-PIMEVPPSHGWEVPPSHSS%SHFTTOIHITBLKFOWFOLFO%
12019-10-04127-204CHI@PHIL02200000011020.02425:430000
22019-10-10227-210CHISJSL01120000010002523:403200
Provided by Hockey-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 10/11/2019.

The defensemen haven’t looked overly aggressive, which is surprising. The defense on the Penalty Kill is a different story. When they’re killing penalties, they make it look like playing defense is optional. Through two games, the defense looks sluggish and disinterested in actually playing their positions. Again, lazy defense.

The defensive pairings need to change. The current pairings of Duncan Keith-Erik Gustafsson, Olli Maatta- Brent Seabrook, and Slater Koekkoek-Connor Murphy aren’t going to win you a Stanley Cup. They might not even help you make the playoffs. The Blackhawks playing 3-on-3 hockey will be almost impossible with these defensive players.

Calvin de Haan hasn’t played a game in Chicago, but he is already missed. Once he returns from his injury, he needs to be placed on the first pairing with Maatta. The second pairing should be Keith and Gustafsson and the third pairing should be Seabrook and Murphy.

There is just no way around saying the Blackhawks’ defensive play has been terrible. Something has to change fast, before November, if they want to win games early in the season. Slow starts are often the difference between a playoff team and one that is watching playoff hockey from their couches.

The Blackhawks also need to stay out of the penalty box. They have to draw penalties and don’t turn the puck over. It sounds simple, but for some reason, the Blackhawks don’t feel like following this simple plan for success. Puck management, better positioning, and stronger goaltending will help fix the defensive struggle.

Robin Lehner hasn’t played in between the pipes yet, but it will be an interesting thing to see if he can repeat some of his success from last year when he was a Vezina Trophy finalist. The Blackhawks aren’t perfect on defense, but they do have a talented team that can make it work for now. Now, the question is: how long can the Chicago Blackhawks put a band-aid on this issue?