The Chicago Blackhawks are dealing with a minor bump in the road with Connor Murphy officially on long-term injury reserve (LTIR) as of Wednesday morning. Murphy, re-injured his groin during Tuesday’s game against the Vegas Golden Knights, the same injury that kept him out of the Blackhawks’ first game of the season against the Philadelphia Flyers.
Murphy had suffered the same injury during a preseason loss to the Washington Capitals at the United Center on Sep. 25. He’ll be out for a minimum of 10 games and the Blackhawks will have to find a way to stay afloat while he’s out.
Next Man Up
Without Murphy, the Blackhawks will have to try and find a good replacement. Slater Koekkoek will return to the lineup and fill out the Blackhawks’ third defense pairing for now. He’s been a healthy scratch and hasn’t played since the home opener against the San Jose Sharks. He is one defenseman who can help fill the void for the Blackhawks on defense.
“We liked him in the games that he’s played in. Plays a simple game, not afraid to get into battles and be physical. Just be as simple as he can, be direct, and make clean plays whenever he can. He’s a good skater, tight gap, all the same things we ask of everyone, he’s capable of doing that and I think he will too.”Jeremy Colliton on Slater Koekkoek
Another candidate is Dennis Gilbert who was recently recalled from the Rockford IceHogs. In his first season in the NHL, Gilbert is similar to Murphy in a lot of ways. He’s a young, big-bodied player with a defense-first mentality. Gilbert played in the season opener against the Flyers in Prague before being sent back down to Rockford. Still, he has a chance to make an impact and earn some ice time if he can prove his worth during Murphy’s absence.
“He has the ability to play a similar game as Murphy, he’s a big kid, skates well, can get a stop in the D-zone…He makes plays, but when he’s got time just making the simple one, taking the first option. But I think he’s really close to being a NHL player so to have him here is a really good opportunity to work with him and I’m sure he’ll get in a some point.”Jeremy Colliton’s thoughts on Gilbert.
The Blackhawks don’t have the room to go backward. Even without Murphy, they need to patch up the defense and find some continuity in their game if they’re going to have any chance of making the playoffs again. Their seven-game homestand hasn’t gone the way they wanted it to and the team seems sure that things will be fine as long as they don’t let up.
“To me the challenge is keeping our foot on the gas. I think our compete level has been pretty good, we’re handling the details better and better each day. We gotta keep taking steps forward and we can’t take two steps back because when you take two steps back, you open yourself up to not getting what you deserve again. If we keep doing the right things over time we’ll get our points.”Jeremy Colliton
As of now, the pairings for the Blackhawks on defense are Duncan Keith with Calvin De Haan, Brent Seabrook with Olli Maata, Eric Gustafsson and Koekkoek. The team would love to be consistent with their pairings but, for now, don’t be surprised if you see these pairing switched up and other players to be in and out of the lineup. Come gameday, the Blackhawks will just have to settle for what works best and take it game by game.