Hockey expert Bob McKenzie takes viewer questions almost every Wednesday night during NBC’s hockey broadcast. This week I was lucky enough to have my Blackhawks questions answered by Bob.
I asked, “Are you surprised by the play of the Blackhawks? Can they keep this up all season?” McKenzie responded that yes he is surprised and people should be cautious of their defense after only four games played.
Neither of the answers surprise me and just reaffirmed what I was already thinking. No one expected the Blackhawks to come out and score ten goals in the first game, or keep up that pace. We have already seen the scoring decrease as well as their shots on goal (44,29, 21, 25).
While their shots on goal have decreased, the opponents have increased theirs significantly (29, 33, 43, 42). I noticed most of the shots have come right in front of the net after looking at shot charts for the last two games. Thankfully the goaltending has been great but we can already see the defense starting to crack. With that, I think there is some upside.
The biggest evidence of their struggles came against the younger and faster Toronto Maple Leafs. Their lack of experience, speed and depth shone through as they were exploited defensively.
Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook have been carrying the load of minutes as expected but we can already see them slowing. The problem is that they’re struggling to find the right fits to compliment them.
Rutta has been the next best defenseman on both ends of the ice. He is a great skater and has shown an ability to defend players in one-on-one situations. In somewhat of a surprise, Rutta has comparable numbers for Corsi, Fenwick and offensive zone starts to Keith and Seabrook. The 27 year old Czech has also contributed a defenseman team high of 4 points.
Gustav Forsling has played well and could be good if the Blackhawks develop his skills. The only fear for a player like him is that he makes a mistake and gets buried at the end of the bench. Such is the case with young players with the Blackhawks players in recent years. He is only 21 and is going to make mistakes. Patience is key.
After that everything gets spotty. Connor Murphy, Niklas Hjalmarsson’s replacement, is last on the Blackhawks for Fenwick, Corsi and offensive zone starts. He is being abused on the ice as a result of his sub par skating ability and was even scratched against Montreal in favor of Cody Franson.
Franson was the last defenseman the Blackhawks picked up in the offseason and it’s apparent why. He doesn’t have the ability to be an everyday player and will be scratched on most nights.
The defense can certainly improve and I think there are a couple guys that can be a good fit alongside Keith and Seabrook. Most notably Rutta and Forsling. They are young and inexperienced but have shown a lot of good signs through the first four games. Based on their minutes, it looks like Coach Q is willing to ride with them.
The same can’t be said for Murphy. No player making $4 million/year should be scratched for an older player making 1/4 of that. We can see he is already in the doghouse with Q and it will be interesting to see how he responds.
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