Ever since head coach Joel Quenneville shuffled up his offensive lines after the Chicago Blackhawks’ uninspiring 5-3 defeat at the hands of the Minnesota Wild back on Oct. 26, things have been going better for Chicago. Over the ensuing four games, they have scored 18 goals and racked up a 3-0-1 record, and the forwards have gotten a great deal of the credit, and rightfully so.
One player who has been equally important to the team’s success over that stretch has been defenseman Nick Leddy. He did pick up two assists in that aforementioned loss to the Wild, but he ended up picking up a goal in the rematch two days later as the Hawks won 5-1. He was held off the board against the Ottawa Senators last Tuesday, but then followed that game up with a goal and an assist against the Winnipeg Jets Saturday.
Before this recent outburst of five points in five games, Leddy only had three assists in the Hawks’ first 10 games of the season, and two of those helpers came in one game, a victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs. Outside of that, he wasn’t really seeing any results as the season got underway.
There were several reasons for that ineffectiveness. The first and most important among those is that Leddy was playing with a different linemate just about every night, with Michal Rozsival, Sheldon Brookbank, and Mike Kostka alternating games alongside Leddy. It’s obviously tough to develop chemistry with a guy when you’re only playing on a pairing with him every third game, so it isn’t surprising that Leddy had a tough time settling into a rhythm before his recent stretch of good play.
To those looking for more evidence that Leddy’s ineffectiveness came as a result of not having a consistent linemate, consider his stellar play on the Hawks’ power play this season. With Brent Seabrook alongside him at the blue line just about every step of the way, Leddy has developed a tremendous feel for when he should cycle the puck along the boards, pass it back along the line to Seabrook, or drive in to the middle of the ice to divert defensive traffic and create passing and shooting lanes. His assertiveness has come as a direct result of having a guy whose actions he can anticipate, and calls for Leddy to take over as the point man on the first power play unit have largely been based on this ability.
Not coincidentally, Leddy’s recent resurgence has come after Brookbank ended up winning a battle with Rozsival for a more full-time role. Brookbank has played in the Hawks’ last three games, picking up a goal and an assist of his own in those contests. His chemistry with Leddy has been apparent, and Quenneville is definitely showing a great deal of trust in him, as his ice time has increased in every game he’s played.
Back to the impact it has had on Leddy to have Brookbank playing alongside him, the move has definitely given Leddy more leeway in what he is able to do on the ice. With Rozsival, it was apparent that he was having a tough time remaining disciplined on the defensive side of things, but Brookbank hasn’t shared those difficulties. He is generally the one staying at home as Leddy goes out and tries to create offense, and while the Hawks have done a great job of cycling a forward back to allow Leddy to roam, it is Brookbank that is really giving him the confidence to do so.
Obviously, Quenneville is going to get Rozsival back in the lineup at some point soon (likely in the team’s back-to-back games over the weekend against the Dallas Stars and Edmonton Oilers), but as of right now, it appears that Leddy’s game is at its peak when he is paired up with Brookbank. He is playing confident hockey right now, and that’s exactly what the Hawks have been looking for ever since they traded for him in 2010.