Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville has chosen to split one of hockey's best defensive pairings, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. The ''other woman" seems to be Nick Leddy, who has skated with Keith. How has that been working out?
The reviews are decidedly mixed four games into year two of the Keith/Leddy alliance.
A good example of the ire this pairing raises among fans occurred in the third period of Chicago's shootout loss to the Boston Bruins Saturday night. Behind goals by Bryan Bickell and Patrick Kane, the 'Hawks held a 2-1 advantage entering the final 20 minutes.
In the eighth minute of the third, Boston's Johnny Boychuk dumped the puck into the Blackhawks' zone—a routine play. What wasn't expected was that Boychuk would overtake Keith to win the race to the end boards for the puck. Boychuck came around the back or the net and set up Nathan Horton's game-tying goal.
Keith did not appear to be moving with a lot of urgency toward Boychuk's dump-in, prompting calls of a lack of hustle on his part. In truth, Leddy wasn't in a big hurry to get to the puck, either.
A quick look back shows that both defensemen hesitated on the play, owing more to a lack of communication than effort. The problem is, Horton still tied the contest and the 'Hawks dropped a game they led after two periods. Sound familiar?
Leddy seems to be skating with the confidence of a player who knows he's got a spot in the lineup. The question lies in where that spot should be.
Leddy and Keith is not a physically imposing defensive pair, nor do they seem to have the kind of chemistry on the ice that would suggest a potent pairing. On the other hand, Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarsson have played well together.
It's possible that Leddy is going to require time to gel with any prospective partner. If that's the case, why not pair him with Hjalmarsson or Steve Montador, who might help limit the breakaway opportunities Keith and Leddy seem to offer up on a regular basis?
Over the last two seasons, Quenneville has deemed Keith the man to partner with and groom Leddy. A quick look at both player's ice time tells you that the two are not exclusive linemates, but this seems to be the way Chicago wants to play it on defense.
If that's the case, then the two had better improve their communication skills.