Defensive Issues Continue To Plague Chicago Blackhawks

By Randy Holt

The Chicago Blackhawks are now standing on the brink of elimination, just four games into their Western Conference Quarterfinal series against the Phoenix Coyotes.

Though all four games have gone to overtime, the Blackhawks have yet to really blow anyone away with a great performance. In fact, we haven’t really seen a performance from this team yet in these four games that says they deserve to win this series over a hardworking Phoenix club.

They’ve been inconsistent at both ends of the ice. The offense, namely the big stars, haven’t shown up and the goaltending has been shaky when it matters most. But where the Hawks have the biggest problem is the same place it’s been all season: on the blue line.

Aside from the top pairing of Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, we’ve seen a really poor performance out of the bulk of the Hawks’ defensemen. Even Keith and Seabrook haven’t been incredibly impressive in the first four games, Keith in particular.

The incompetence of the rest of the blue line has forced those two into over 30 minutes of action, and some of that stems from Joel Quenneville making some questionable choices as far as who gets to dress.

And by questionable decisions, of course I mean Sean O’Donnell. Old Donald has contributed absolutely nothing to this series for the Hawks, moving at a snail’s pace and proving completely ineffective in the games he’s dressed this series. The fact that he’s even dressing makes almost zero sense. Could Sami Lepisto really be much worse?

Nick Leddy was expected to step in and replace Brian Campbell after he was dealt to the Florida Panthers this past summer. That hasn’t happened, and it’s proving to be a big time mistake on the part of Stan Bowman. As far as his offensive ability goes, Leddy can move the puck extremely well. But in his own zone, Leddy is constantly getting outmuscled (understatement) or beaten to pucks.

His partner on the blue line, Johnny Oduya, also hasn’t had an overly impressive series. He proved to be a brilliant deadline move in the regular season, but has been a ghost for the majority of the series, when he’s not falling on or getting beaten down to the ice.

Then you have Niklas Hjalmarsson. Once the Hawks are eliminated, whether it’s in this series or beyond, I have to think Hjammer has played his last game as a Chicago Blackhawk. He’s surprised a bit with his physical play, but he’s been a big part of why the Blackhawks can’t get the puck out of their own zone, which has cost them on more than one occasion in this series.

I’d expect big changes on the Chicago blue line this summer. Oduya has been a nice addition, and could be re-signed, but the defense continues to underperform at a rate that won’t get them past Phoenix, let alone some of the top dogs in the Western Conference.

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