The Chicago Blackhawks had a chance to win Thursday’s game against the Nashville Predators, but three early third period goals spelled doom for the road side as they fell by a 5-2 margin and found themselves having to go back to Chicago for Game 6 of the series on Saturday night.
A big part of the reason for that return trip to the Windy City was the early third period play of the team’s defense, and Michal Rozsival made several errors that caused things to spiral out of control for the Blackhawks
Early on in the frame, Rozsival had a chance to clear the puck up the boards and end a Nashville scoring threat. Instead, he hesitated and ended up losing the puck to James Neal, who ended up scoring on a wraparound goal to make it a 2-1 game and get the momentum going back in his team’s favor.
Just a few minutes later, Rozsival committed a lazy penalty in his own zone as he chose to hit Matt Cullen instead of getting inside position on him to protect Scott Darling, who was out of the net to play the puck. The Predators got a power play as a result, and they made the Hawks pay as Colin Wilson scored his fifth goal of the postseason.
Those two plays could happen to any player having a bad night, but it’s become the norm rather than the exception for Rozsival. He is frequently in bad position on defense, pinches in way too often to compensate for his lack of speed (keeping the puck in the offensive zone is preferable to backing up and trying to get back into position), and has cost the Hawks quite a few goals in this series.
The problem for the Blackhawks is that they don’t have anyone else in the mix right now to replace him. Trades have sent guys like Nick Leddy and Klas Dahlbeck elsewhere, and Ryan Stanton was lost last year as the team tried to send him through waivers. The fact of the matter is that Stan Bowman put too many eggs in the Trevor van Riemsdyk basket this season, and his trade for Kimmo Timonen at the trade deadline has not helped solve the issue this team is facing with blue line depth.
Kyle Cumiskey can skate, and David Rundblad has some speed as well, but those guys come with a whole new host of defensive issues, and that is not something the team needs to be dealing with. So they’re stuck with Rozsival and Timonen as the bottom two defensemen in the lineup, and they’ll just have to deal with the consequences.
So what is Joel Quenneville to do in this situation? He clearly has an affinity for Rozsival, as he hasn’t missed a shift after any one of his gaffes in this series, so the only choice here is to reunite Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, deploy Johnny Oduya and Niklas Hjalmarsson as the second pairing, and mix and match the other two defensemen for the remaining minutes of the game.
It’s hardly an ideal scenario to ask both pairings to play 25 or more minutes in a game, but then again, what is ideal about having the crippling lack of blue line depth that the Blackhawks have?