The Chicago Blackhawks are 2-0-0 a week into the regular season after defeating Dallas in a shootout and lowly Buffalo in what ended up being a 6-2 rout. They haven’t been truly tested yet and their sparse October schedule will allow them to ease into the season. Here are some takeaways from a short opening week.
It has been rather noticeable that Coach Quenneville isn’t comfortable with David Rundblad and Trevor Van Riemsdyk yet. Rundblad has averaged just under nine minutes per game, while Van Riemsdyk is up around 13 MPG. What does that mean for the top four defensemen? Heavy workloads. Though it has only been two games, Duncan Keith is logging Ryan Suter type minutes and is the early league leader at 28:32 MPG, just about four minutes higher than last year. He can handle a larger role, as his 26:54 career high would suggest, but what type of minutes could we see in the playoffs if this continues? His playoff average is two minutes higher his regular season average, so the Blackhawks may be looking to him more than they ever have in the past.
Brent Seabrook, Johnny Oduya, and Niklas Hjalmarsson are all playing more than they did last year as well. Michal Rozsival should take away some of the pressure when he returns from injury though. Rundblad’s play during the Buffalo game was noticeably poor, including a mishandle and subsequent blown tire that led to a clean breakaway for Nicolas Deslauriers. If Rundlad isn’t able to improve his play soon, it’s possible that Kyle Cumiskey will get his first crack at the lineup. Quennville did mention that Rozsival’s return wouldn’t necessarily involve any roster moves though.
Coach Joel Quenneviille said #Blackhawks will likely keep eight defensemen when Michal Rozsival returns from injury.
— Chris Kuc (@ChrisKuc) October 15, 2014
While Nick Leddy never played much in the postseason, he did allow some relief during the regular season and his absence means that one of the younger defensemen will need to be more reliable as the season progresses.
Too Top Heavy?
The top two lines have been incredibly productive through the first two games, but the bottom two lines haven’t accounted for much. With a combined six points on the first line and eight on the second line, the Blackhawks don’t really need to worry about this right now. The bottom two forward groups only have a combined one point, a Daniel Carcillo goal of all things, and that could be a problem when the Blackhawks finally face a strong defensive team. The Stars are known for their offense and the Sabres are known for…well, nothing.
It’s not surprising that the top two lines have erupted for 14 points in just two games against weak defensive squads. However, the bottom two lines will need to be more productive when the Hawks face a solid group of defensemen. In what will be their first true test, the Blackhawks will travel to St. Louis next Saturday to face the Blues, who boast an excellent group of defensemen. If the top forwards are shut down, Brad Richards and company will have to find the back of the net. Carcillo and Marcus Kruger both have five shots on goal, while Richards and Jeremy Morin have four a piece, so they are getting their chances. The return of Kris Versteeg in a couple of weeks should spark the third line though and there’s no doubt that the Blackhawks’ offense will be a strength this season as it has been in years past.