Duncan Keith is one of the best defensemen in the NHL and he skates along side heavyweight Brent Seabrook for the most part, another huge name. They’ve boosted the Blackhawks to two Stanley Cups skating together and have incredible skill out on the ice. So what exactly is going on with the dynamic duo this past week?
In Saturday’s game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Hawks dominated nearly the entire game. It was all pace control and everything else fell into place – Tampa Bay looked positively defeated, down by two goals halfway through the third with nearly no momentum. With Jonathon Toews fresh into the penalty box, the Hawks PK was up and made everyone a little nervous. Despite the pristine PK last season and especially in the playoffs, Chicago allowed Washington three PP goals in the season opener. Tampa Bay registered the fourth opponent PP goal for the Hawks to get the Lightning on the board.
Duncan Keith positioned himself between the shooter and the net, as is the fundamentals of defending. He spread his body out as much as possible to take away any and all lanes from Martin St. Louis but he found the back of the net anyway. It happens, nothing to worry about. Just get back out there and make things happen. But it happened again.
This time it was the tying goal. Keith was drawn out of position that opened up a point-blank opportunity for Teddy Purcell to light the lamp for Tampa Bay. Both goals came less than two minutes apart late in the game. Keith was the primary defender again when St. Louis scored a goal with just 21 seconds remaining to win the game Tuesday night. After two collapses like that, the question must be asked: should Quenneville switch up defensive pairings?
The short answer is no.
Chicago has only played three games this season and have allowed as many goals as they have scored: 10. But the defensive capability between the pairings is high for any team, and it should be for the defending champs. Quenneville likely won’t change up defensive lines because his focus primarily lies on the offensive side of the game at the moment. But if the Hawks lose one or two more close ones like that, expect changes. Quenneville loves to juggle the lines after he’s seen that something isn’t working.
If that happens, Keith could be skating alongside the new kid in Chicago, Michael Kostka. Kieth’s veteran skills and quick feet could match well with Kostka’s gritty aggressiveness and enthusiasm to make plays happen. It would be good for both men to have a change of pace and would allow Hammer/Oduya to keep up their great play while giving Leddy and Seabrook a chance to skate together. Leddy can be quick and is great at carrying the puck into the zone, but could use improvement when he finds himself out of position and rushing to get back and break up an odd-man rush. Skating with Seabrook will help him develop that. Suddenly, there’s an opportunity for Sheldon Brookbank to shine, who has been vying for a permanent roster spot for a painstakingly long time.
Quenneville isn’t necessarily quick to hit the panic button, but he’s keen on noticing when something is not working and does not hesitate to change things up a bit. He experiments with things like putting Patrick Kane at center (oh, dear lord, please don’t do that again) and bringing Bickell to the top line. Some things work, some things don’t. But it’s the mark of a great coach so I’m sure he’s far ahead of us on the defensive front.
Keep an eye out this weekend for potential changes in lines either before the game or mid-game. Early reports Thursday indicate the third and fourth lines were jugged a bit in practice but no word on defensive pairing shifts.