In this second part of our look back at the Blackhawks performance through Christmas, we’ll grade the performances from the Blackhawks’ defensemen and goalies through the season’s first 35 games. We previously graded the forwards.
Keith has had his rough patches this year, but he’s shown flashes of the dominant player that won the Norris Trophy in 2010 as well. His ice time average is the fifth highest in the NHL, and he’s still the main man on both special teams for the Hawks. His 19 assists are tied for the fifth highest among defensemen, and his 10 power play assists are tied with Evgeni Malkin for the 15th-highest total among all skaters.
Seabrook, like Keith, missed games for the first time in over a year this season but is having a stronger year than his point total indicates. He’s tied for 22nd among defensemen in hits and is tied for ninth in the league in blocked shots. Perhaps the biggest thing we’ve learned this year is that the Blackhawks desperately need both Keith and Seabrook on the ice, and when they’re together there aren’t many pairs in the league that are better than 2 and 7 for Chicago.
There have been some ugly moments for Hjalmarsson this year, and his point total continues to leave a lot to be desired. But he’s the NHL leader in blocked shots and has started to develop good chemistry with Nick Leddy as the Hawks’ second pair.
Leddy has stepped up his game and started rewarding management’s faith in him that led to Brian Campbell becoming expendable. At only 20, Leddy is averaging almost the same ice time per night that Seabrook is and has shown a more physical game than most thought he was capable of bringing this year. He’s becoming stronger with the puck and is contributing to both special teams as well.
Montador was the only multi-year deal GM Stan Bowman gave to someone outside the Hawks’ organization this summer, and it’s been puzzling why the Hawks would invest a four-year deal in a fifth defenseman who’s biggest impact is as a forward on the power play. He’s certainly one of the better fifth d-men in the league, and he’s been physical at times, but there continues to be chemistry issues on the Hawks’ bottom pair too frequently for comfort.
Scott has shifted at forward and on the blue line this year, and has shown great improvement from where he was at last year. But that doesn’t change the reality that his best role in the NHL is as a 13th forward. He doesn’t lose fights, but rarely gets a chance to drop the gloves.
O’Donnell was brought in to rotate through as the sixth defenseman and he’s done a good job of providing what the Hawks wanted when they gave him a one-year deal: decent ice time, no epic mistakes, and a sound physical game. The Hawks have been their best when O’Donnell is skating with Montador on the bottom pair. His ability to fill almost twice as many minutes makes him a better fit on the blue line than Scott.
He’s been a non-factor, and might be spending the end of his NHL career in the press box. In spite of his limitations, Scott has passed him on the depth chart and there doesn’t appear to be a match-up where the Hawks’ coaches like him on the ice. If he finishes the year in Chicago it would be surprising.
Crawford put up much better numbers in his rookie season, and went through a rough stretch in November that led to Ray Emery getting the lion’s share of the starts in December. To Crawford’s credit, he came back after not playing in most of the month and was strong against Montreal. Not all of the goals he’s allowed are his fault, but there have been too many soft goals already this year.
Emery’s numbers appear to be fairly good, but when you consider seven of the 33 goals he’s allowed this year came in one game in Edmonton, his numbers improve significantly when that outlier is removed from the equation. He dominated games early in December and helped the Blackhawks march back to the top of the Western Conference standings. We were (thankfully) completely wrong to question making Emery the back-up after a questionable preseason; he’s been a game-changer off the bench for the Hawks this year.
The Hawks are 17th in the NHL, allowing 2.83 goals per game so far this year. They’re allowing 28.8 shots on goal per game, which ranks seventh in the NHL, but have blocked only 216 shots (20th in the NHL). The penalty kill, though improving, still ranks 27th in the NHL at 77.9 percent.
The problem the Blackhawks had in November was too many bi-polar games in which the play by all of the skaters was mediocre and there appeared to be an effort problem with the team’s defensive approach. As Bowman has said on a couple occasions, there have been too many blowout losses this year already. However, the Hawks win 93.8 percent of their games when leading at the end of two periods, which ranks seventh in the league.
It certainly appears that the Hawks, when healthy, have one of the better top four in the game and Quenneville has enjoyed better depth between the pipes than most teams in the league can claim. But the entire team needs to play better defense on a more consistent basis the rest of the way.