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Series Preview: Blackhawks Defense

Our preview series continues with Chicago’s blue line.

NHL: Chicago Blackhawks at Nashville Predators Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

We continue our preview of the Predators-Blackhawks series with an in-depth look at their defense. We covered the forwards on Monday, now a look at the blueline.

The Blackhawks defense may not be as threatening as the Predators on paper, but as every Predators fan knows, they are not to be dismissed out of hand.

Their defense is an integral part of their cycle, from moving the puck up the ice to bombing away from the point. Even their worst defensemen know what their real job is: give the puck to the second line and watch them work their magic. Having faced this team on a regular basis during the lifetime of this franchise, there aren’t a lot of surprises.

While Quenneville shuffles the pairings regularly, here’s what I anticipate:

Niklas Hjalmarsson - Duncan Keith

Brent Seabrook - Johnny Oduya

Brian Campbell - Trevor van Riemsdyk

The Knowns

Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, and Niklas Hjalmarsson are the three stalwarts of the Blackhawks defense. Duncan Keith won the Conn Smythe on one leg in 2015 and Hjalmarsson is one of the best “stay at home” defenders in the league. Seabrook is more prone to foibles than his paycheck would suggest, but he’s still a very good top four defenseman and has one of the better shots on their back end.

The Vets

Michal Roszival has been hanging around on the bottom pair of the Blackhawks for years at a low salary, while Brian Campbell and Johnny Oduya are recent returnees. Campbell is definitely underpaid in only the way a perennial Cup contender can get away with, and the Dallas Stars retained 50% of Johnny Oduya’s salary after sending him over this season. Oduya is fairly weak defensively, but Campbell and Roszival bring a lot of veteran savvy with them, even though they can get beat on the rush.

The Newbies

While Trevor van Riemsdyk has been around since the 2015 season, he’s had a rough couple of years, not living up to expectations set before he went out with injury that season. Michal Kempny and Gustav Forsling have played 50 and 38 games respectively this season, and neither move the needle much, if we see them at all.

Chicago has three tiers of skaters: the bottom pair, the second pair, and Duncan Keith.

For contrast, here’s Nashville defense, which evenly spreads time throughout the top four and keeps the third pair below fifteen minutes a night (with honorable mention to Matt Irwin).

The Bottom Line

While the Hawks have a relatively strong NHL defense, Nashville at full strength has the depth and skill to compete head to head against them. Nashville’s pace of play should compare favorably to the footspeed of Chicago’s defense corps, who are aging. However, the ability of players like Duncan Keith to spring their forwards from deep in the defensive zone on a breakaway should not be discounted.

If Nashville can use their ability to forecheck deep in the zone and not shy away from the front of the net, they can exploit Chicago’s weakness around the crease.

Just, for the love of god, avoid this: