Early on this season, the Chicago Blackhawks defense looked like a dreadful accident: unpleasant, yet you cannot look away.
After the Blackhawks' great defensive season last year, no one anticipated such a disappointment thus far. Chicago still had its top defensive line pairing of Norris Trophy winner Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. What could go wrong?
Well, plenty of things can actually.
During the preseason, Brian Campbell was injured and Nick Leddy was asked to take his place and skate with Niklas Hjalmarsson as the second defensive pairing.
Leddy was not a regret and he in fact has been more than satisfying, but I will get to that later.
This massive defensive chaos caused Keith to log more minutes on the ice per game, clocking an average of 31:47 TOI in Campbell's absence.
Instead of putting all of the pressure on Keith, Seabrook took some of the responsibility for the pitiable defensive play of the pair. They seldom were in this position last season; the Blackhawks defense was exceptionally vigorous for a majority of the season.
The Blackhawks also faced trouble with Hjalmarsson being suspended during Campbell’s injury. On October 11, 2010, Hjalmarsson was ejected and ultimately suspended for his hit on Jason Pominville of the Buffalo Sabres.
It was fortunate to see the NHL watching out for its players, but unlucky for the Blackhawks to have another defenseman off the ice for a short while.
This caused Jassen Cullimore to be called up from the Blackhawks' AHL affiliate, the Rockford Icehogs. Even with bringing a new guy up, this left Keith and Seabrook to clock in more and more minutes.
The Blackhawks blue line was being tormented due to injury and salary cap issues.
By the time Campbell made his healthy debut for the 2010-2011 season, Leddy was already sent down to Rockford, Cullimore was still hanging around by little leeway and his defensive partner (Hjalmarsson) was a minus-eight in 11 games.
Since the entire defense was suffering, no one seemed to notice the appalling performances from John Scott, Nick Boynton and Jordan Hendry.
Boynton and Scott took countless unnecessary penalties and did not seem to play up to the teams expectations.
Hendry was not getting adequate playing time and even had 19-year-old Leddy picked over him. As Leddy went down to the AHL, Hendry was still looked over to play.
It was looking scary for the Blackhawks' blue line midseason until a stroke of genius came thorough, or maybe it was just pure luck.
Unexpectedly, after the World Juniors Championship, the Blackhawks brought Leddy back to the NHL. Leddy was on the United States roster as a defenseman during the WJC and earned a bronze medal.
Coach Joel Quenneville brought together the defensive pairing of Hendry and Leddy. Most people figured it would be one or the other for the Blackhawks roster, except who knew these two young men would be outstanding together on the blue line?
Hendry and Leddy are not scoring defensemen, but they stay with the puck and do not let it get past them. Having them together has been a pleasant revelation.
Since Leddy has been invited back to the Blackhawks, they are 4-0-1 and the ‘Hawks also have a three-game win streak. This may not seem like much, but this has been remarkable for the Blackhawks' burdened season.
Everything is starting to look great. The second defensive line is promising once again. Campbell is third in the league with a plus-23 and Hjalmarsson has 95 blocked shots and is a plus-eight halfway through the season.
The defensive woes seem to be ancient for the Blackhawks. It is not all over yet, and five games means nothing in January for the NHL, but it is nice to see the defense coming together for such a tremendous team.
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