Chicago Blackhawks Defense Has More Questions Than Answers

Who is in the lineup each night for the Chicago Blackhawks’ defense has no consistent answer 22 games into the season

While no one is going to complain too much about the Chicago Blackhawks defense right now if you were asked to compare it to last season’s group, the blue line unit is far from settled. And it’s certainly an interesting situation.

We haven’t seen any call-ups. No Erik Gustafsson. No Viktor Svedberg. No Ville Pokka. But the Blackhawks started the regular season with eight defensemen, and they’ve all seen at least two games of action.

The latest switch was to sit Michal Kempny down for the last two games as Michal Rozsival gets a spell. This happened despite Kempny and typical playing partner Brent Seabrook being the most consistently successful defensive pairing prior to Kempny’s sitdown.

This was also despite youngster Gustav Forsling hitting a bit of a freshman wall. Yet, he’s rolled on with the elder statesman Rozsival as his partner.

All of this doesn’t even take into consideration Trevor van Riemsdyk, who struggled in two games early this season, then suffered an injury he’s still recovering from.

What we’ve seen this season

Here’s how the Blackhawks defense lined up Friday against Anaheim:

Duncan KeithNiklas Hjalmarsson

Brent Seabrook-Brian Campbell

Gustav Forsling-Michal Rozsival

There’s no certainty that’s how the pairs will look tonight against Los Angeles, as it would be Rozsival’s third consecutive game in and Kempny’s third consecutive game out. Of course, the Blackhawks won yesterday, so …

Now, there are some things that have been noticed through the season’s first 22 games. First, when Keith and Campbell played together for an extended stretch, things didn’t look too great. It seemed like they were constantly fishing the puck out of their net or out from behind it.

Another pairing that didn’t seem to work out too well was Forsling and Hjalmarsson. This was almost entirely because of the youngster, who went through a rough stretch when the two were paired together. You’d like to think a combination of Swedes would typically create good results, like when Hjammer and Johnny Oduya played together.

Third, TVR didn’t look good with anyone in his two games. Now, he’ll of course get a chance to play again as soon as he’s able. Who he replaces on any given night probably comes down to the two newcomers, unless there’s an injury or someone is playing extremely poorly.

Who do the Blackhawks put together?

I don’t expect coach Joel Quenneville to suddenly decide to stick with some defensive pairings, but it would be helpful for all the blueliners to establish some consistency with partners. So let’s look at some ways to put guys together longer term.

Here are some possession marks through the season’s first 22 games: Keith, 53.1 percent; Seabrook, 53.5 percent; Hjalmarsson, 49.6 percent; Campbell, 51.2 percent; Forsling, 43.7 percent; Kempny, 55.7 percent; Rozsival, 48.5 percent; TVR, 28.2 percent.

So, obviously, TVR’s stats are skewed by being over just two games, though that is pretty terrible no matter the sample size. Forsling has had a lot of trouble handling the puck, but no one else has been egregiously bad in possession.

Now, let’s also look at the strengths of each guy. Keith, Seabrook, Campbell and Forsling are puck movers, do different extents. Keith and Seabrook are frequent powerplay guys, while Campbell and Forsling have appeared in that role as well.

Hjammer is a puck suppressor who works on holding back the opposition. Kempny has also proven pretty adept at that talent, though over a smaller sample size. Rozsival and TVR are guys you’d prefer to see more of in the offensive zone, but you get the feeling Q trusts Rozsival with some defensive assignments as well.

So, here’s what I’d roll out for the Blackhawks’ defensive pairings:

Keith-Hjalmarsson

Seabrook-Kempny

Campbell-Forsling/Rozsival/TVR

I don’t think there’s any reason for Kempny to be sitting right now. While he’s not a scoresheet packer, he’s done a great job on the defensive end getting the puck away from the opposition and not allowing it to reach Corey Crawford and Scott Darling as much.

Forsling has been your weakest possession guy, and he could bear to learn some things from a guy whose career goal has been to posses the puck. Rozsival can probably hold his own well enough to be an OK partner for Campbell in small doses, while Campbell would be a fine babysitter for TVR.

It would be nice to get some stability in the Blackhawks’ defensive pairings, and I think the above groupings are the most effective moving forward.

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