Chicago, IL – We are a fifth of the way through this abbreviated season and the Blackhawks have already shored up their weakness from last year namely their defensive play.
If there was one thing that really hurt the Hawks last year it was an overall neglect of the defensive play which resulted in too many turnovers and the inability to clear pucks that got the Hawks in trouble. That is not the case this year.
As a team the Blackhawks are ranked 3rd overall in +/- in the league. They are 7th overall in Blockshots and 3rd in blockshots on the road where the majority of their games have been played.
And perhaps the biggest turnaround is their penalty kill which last year was a dreadful 27th and is now 1st among all teams with an incredible 94.9% kill percentage.
Credit the coaches and players for rectifying this. We are not really sure if it was more time off in the summer or just a greater recognition of the importance of defensive play but the results are showing in a big way. The Hawks are still the only team with no regulation losses in the entire league and their defensive play is a big part of this.
While this takes a team effort the defenseman must be singled out here for leading the charge.
Brent Seabrook is leading the charge with 27 blocked shots which is 3rd best in the NHL. While Seabrook has not gotten off to a great start for him and some rust is showing, he is making big plays when it counts. As the season wears on he will be a greater force which is bad news for scorers around the league.
Duncan Keith while his stats don’t indicate it and he and Seabrook have a pedestrian +/- he is starting to look like the Duncan Keith of old. His stick work is top-notch and has saved many a goals. His awareness of when to join the rush is well, unparalleled on this team.
Niklas Hjalmarsson has really found his game and is coming into his own as a very good all around defenseman. He probably is the most improved Dman on the team. He is 11th in league in blocked shots with 24. He also is tied for 4th in the league in takeaways and is a +6 which is 9th best among defenseman and 11th among all skaters. Right now it can be argued he is this teams best defenseman.
Johnny Oduya what a pick up this guy has been. Oduya compliments this team very well. He also is 17th in the NHL in block shots with 22. He is currently third of all NHL skaters with +9 rating. Like Keith, Oduya just seems to have a knack for knowing when to join the rush and when not.
All of the Hawks defenseman are very good passers and know how to outlet their zones quickly, which is a key to getting out of your end and transitioning to offense.
With the Hawks being so skilled with blocking shots this indicates a fearlessness and a team first attitude which I’m sure their goalies appreciate.
The high takeaway ranking Hjalmarsson has is indicative of his ability to win battles in the corners of his own zone and his stick work. Working out in Europe has really developed Hjalmarsson into a very well-rounded dman.
One can also see the maturation of Nick Leddy. He is much more confident with the puck and does not turnover the puck in his own zone which is key. Leddy has always been a very good offensive defenseman and this is continuing this year as well. He currently leads all the Hawks defenseman in points with five.
Michal Rozsival and Sheldon Brookbank have been solid as well. Both were good pick ups to solidify the back end.
Defense however is not just the defenseman’s responsibility and with the Hawks off to a 8-0-2 the forwards have taken up the defensive tasks as well. As mentioned previously the Blackhawks are 3rd in the league overall in +/- with five players in the top 10 of +/- on the road which is where the majority of the Hawks games have been played.
Oduya – 1st
Toews – 2nd
Hammer – 5th
Kane – 7th
Hossa – 8th
Goals will come and go but if you have a solid team defense that will keep you in games you increase your chances of winning very tight games. The Hawks are building a defensive wall and so far it is solid. Defense is the foundation of which championships are laid. If the Hawks continue on this path, this team will be very tough to beat.
Are they perfect no. I still think they give away too many pucks either in their zone or the neutral zone but you must have something to improve on right?
The Penalty kill turnaround has been huge and a shout out to the killers Marcus Kruger and Michael Frolik for doing yeomen’s work. It isn’t sexy but it can win games and is an important component to a hockey game.
Overall everyone from the front office to coaches to players to fans have to be pleasantly pleased with the defensive play of this team so far. They are not only building blocks to a solid foundation, they are building what could be an impenetrable fortress.