When Patrick Kane stayed in Chicago because of an illness before Friday’s game, the Blackhawks had to make a decision. How would they fill the roster?
Complicating the matter was the unusual circumstances for the organization. When Patrick Sharp wasn’t able to go on Opening Night, the Hawks were able to call Rockford that morning and Brandon Pirri was easily able to get to the United Center on time; it’s only about an hour’s drive. This time, it wasn’t as easy.
Rockford was playing in Vancouver. The Blackhawks were in Columbus.
So when the Hawks decided to bring up a seventh defenseman, it meant Jassen Cullimore would essentially stay on the plane that had just brought him to Vancouver and fly all the way back to Chicago, only to hop on another plane to Ohio. Then, after roughly 12 hours of flying and dealing with airports, Cullimore was supposed to eat minutes to help coach Joel Quenneville keep the top skaters fresh for a back-to-back game on Saturday against Buffalo that should be a physical affair.
Cullimore was one of the final roster cuts made this fall by Quenneville, so clearly his stock was up at the end of camp. But after all that travel, how much would he be able to give on Friday night?
How about 18:54, including an assist and a blocked shot. Cullimore slid onto the third pair with Jordan Hendry and played very well. In fact, Hendry only skated 13:43, while rookie Nick Leddy played 14:23 in the game.
Thanks to the Hawks taking a lead early and building it throughout the game, Quenneville was finally able to hold Duncan Keith under 30 minutes; Keith skated only 23:16, just 16 second more than Nick Boynton. Brent Seabrook still led the team at 24:21, but both of the Hawks top defenseman saw their minutes well down from the first four games of the year.
In fact, in a game when the Hawks put five goals on the board, only two numbers stick out on the stat sheet: Patrick Sharp’s shots on goal (13), and John Scott’s ice time.
Scott has been a disappointment so far for the Hawks, but carrying seven defensemen could have, in theory, allowed Quenneville to mix the pairs and give all seven minutes on the blue line. Even when Quenneville opted to move Scott to forward (where he played some while with Minnesota), how much ice time he would play figured to be a function of the score.
Viktor Stalberg, who scored his first goal for the Blackhawks, skated almost 12 minutes in the game, an increase from the first four games. Similarly, Jack Skille saw an increase to nearly 14 minutes in the game. Because the Hawks ran away with the game in the second period, almost all of the secondary players on the roster saw an increase in playing time.
Scott skated only three shifts in the game, accounting for only 2:32 in ice time. To put that into perspective, Cullimore (fresh out of the AHL and a long travel day) skated 3:06 short-handed on Friday night.
The Blackhawks will get Niklas Hjalmarsson back from his two-game suspension on Saturday, and Quenneville indicated that Kane should be back from his illness. That’s two roster spots that will be filled by veterans that were available on Friday night. Quenneville will have to make choices, again, about who plays.
If ice time on Friday night is any indication, and Quenneville’s comment after the game about the quality of Cullimore’s play mean anything, Scott might need a tie for the game on Saturday.