The Chicago Blackhawks haven’t been having the best time as of late, losing two games in a row to the St. Louis Blues and seemingly losing their way in the process, dropping both of those games in overtime as the Blues have grabbed a stranglehold on the series.
As Game 3 approaches at the United Center, the Blackhawks will have even more to deal with than just a series deficit. They will also be skating without defenseman Brent Seabrook, who was suspended for three games for his hit on David Backes during Saturday’s Game 2 loss for the Hawks. Seabrook pretty much does it all for the Blackhawks, playing power play minutes on the second line, serving as one of the team’s primary penalty killers, and playing a large amount of even strength minutes with partner Duncan Keith.
The Blackhawks have had to play without Seabrook chipping in consistently before, with the defenseman being cast down to the third line by head coach Joel Quenneville during last year’s playoff run. A reunion with Keith seemed to set Seabrook straight however, and he rewarded the coach’s faith with the series-winning goal in Game 7 overtime in that series.
The Hawks also had to deal with other defensive absences during that playoff run, with Keith being suspended for Game 4 of the conference finals against the Los Angeles Kings. Sheldon Brookbank was inserted into the lineup for that game, and the Hawks ended up winning that contest and the series thanks to the defensive exploits of Niklas Hjalmarsson and company.
That is the kind of production that the Hawks are going to need if they are going to win without Seabrook in the lineup. His offensive skill is unquestioned, and even though he does make bad decisions at times, he is largely a solid defender as well. It will be largely impossible to replace him completely, but the Hawks can at the very least make some changes to minimize the impact of his departure.
First and foremost on that list will be to continue skating out Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya in as many situations as they can. Quenneville hasn’t been shy about using that duo in shutdown situations, and he will likely try to keep that pairing together, at least at the beginning. They may not have the offensive punch of Keith and Seabrook, but they have similar defensive acumen, and that’s a big plus in a situation like this.
As for who should skate with Keith, the odds are that Quenneville will try to put Michal Rozsival alongside him on the top pairing. Rozsival had an excellent playoff run with the Blackhawks in 2013, and he provides a nice complement to Keith. He is largely a stay at home type of blue liner, and he could give Keith the freedom to pinch in when necessary that the former Norris Trophy winner likes so much.
Moving Rozsival to the top pairing would mean that Brookbank would likely slot in with Nick Leddy on the third pairing, and that move shouldn’t be that big of a switch. The duo played together quite a bit this season, and even though Brookbank has not looked good, at the very least they’ll be able to spell the top two pairings from playing too much.
Playing for a good chunk of the series without Seabrook is a less than ideal scenario for the Blackhawks, but the fact of the matter is that they can cope with it better than some teams could. They have good depth on their blue line, and with guys like Keith and Hjalmarsson in the fold, they should still play responsible enough defense to win games.
Now if only the offense could get going…