Blackhawks defensemen stepping up on offense
By JAY COHEN
the associated press | December 26,2013
ap file photo
Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith (2) and San Jose Sharks left wing Patrick Marleau (12) maneuver with the puck behind the goal. Duncan Keith leads all NHL defensemen with 30 assists.
CHICAGO — Forget Patrick Kane’s flashy moves and Jonathan Toews’ steady play. Same for the rest of the talented forwards on the Chicago Blackhawks.
Instead, check out the players who line up right behind the team’s biggest stars. Chicago’s athletic defensemen play a prominent role in the NHL’s most potent offense.
Duncan Keith leads all NHL defensemen with 30 assists. Niklas Hjalmarsson is on pace for career highs in goals and assists. Brent Seabrook has three goals and 23 assists after he had 20 points in 47 games last season. Nick Leddy and Johnny Oduya also have provided valuable support on offense.
It’s hard enough for teams to deal with the likes of Kane and Toews. Now, when Keith & Co. are coming up and taking aim, the Blackhawks turn into a goaltender’s nightmare.
“I love our defense. They’ve been huge for us the past two seasons,” forward Patrick Sharp said. “They all skate well. They all move the puck and with the forwards that we have in our locker room, we like to get it with speed and they do a good job of getting it to us. Our defense (has) been the key to our team this year.”
The importance of Chicago’s offensive defensemen was on full display Monday night, when the Blackhawks beat the New Jersey Devils 5-2 for their sixth win in the last eight games. Leddy helped set up Kane’s tiebreaking goal in the second period, and then capped the scoring with his fifth of the season in the third. Seabrook added two assists.
It was the Blackhawks’ 15th game with at least five goals, running their league-best total to 145. They also lead the NHL with an average of 2.87 points a game by their defensemen, according to STATS, a significant increase from their 2.08 average for last season’s Stanley Cup-winning team.
St. Louis, which hosts Chicago on Saturday night, is next on the list with 2.64 points a game for its defensemen and 128 goals overall.
“I think as a defense corps you know that it’s important that we help control the offensive goal, not just necessarily scoring points but just being in on the attack and being an extra option that might create some space for our forwards,” said Keith, who also had an assist against the Devils.
Keith is one of the top contenders for the Norris Trophy after he took home the award for the NHL’s top defenseman in 2010. The 30-year-old Keith, who was selected by the Blackhawks in the second round of the 2002 draft, has led the team in ice time every season since he made his debut in 2005.
He plays alongside Seabrook in Chicago’s top defensive pairing.
“The two of them have been together basically since they broke into the league,” said coach Joel Quenneville, a former NHL defenseman. “That’s been a big part of our team. When you think about all the shifts they’ve played together, there’s a lot of familiarity with one another and I think they complement each other for the right reasons.”