Blackhawks' defensive depth tested already in Game 1 vs. Ducks


Blackhawks' defensive depth tested already in Game 1 vs. Ducks

ANAHEIM, Calif. – The concerns of the Michal Rozsival-less Blackhawks defense were present entering the Western Conference Final.

Someone had to make up the time-on-ice difference for Rozsival, who was playing 15-18 minutes before he suffered a postseason-ending fractured ankle against Minnesota. David Rundblad was going to get thrown into a tough situation, having no postseason experience. Kimmo Timonen wasn’t playing much at all and who knew if coach Joel Quenneville would change that, even in Rozsival’s absence.

Well, Game 1 is in the books. And regarding the Blackhawks’ defense going forward, there may be even more questions now.

[MORE: Five Things from Game 1 - Blackhawks need more traffic again]

Rundblad had a tough day, as two of his clearing attempts/passes resulted in Anaheim goals. Timonen logged just 5:15 of ice time. Duncan Keith played more than 28 minutes, and 10 1/2 of those came in the first period. The depleted depth past Rozsival was known entering this series, and Game 1 emphasized that.

So let’s break this down a bit, shall we? While some folks on Twitter are screaming for Kyle Cumiskey or a defenseman from Rockford to get playing time, will it make a difference? Either way you’re going to have an inexperienced defenseman coming in at a pressure-filled time of the postseason — Cumiskey, by the way, has played just six NHL postseason games. Maybe it’s worth the chance but the risk, nevertheless, would be there.

Last week, Timonen said he’s felt as good as he ever has entering this series. Why he only logged a little more than five minutes is uncertain. Perhaps coach Quenneville is wary of playing him more. Maybe it was because the Blackhawks got down 1-0 about nine minutes into the game and were chasing from then on out. When that happens, the Blackhawks rotate their top players more often. But if Timonen is healthy he needs to play more. If nothing else, he soaks up some of those minutes.

[NBC SPORTS SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

Quenneville, when asked if the Blackhawks have enough depth with Rundblad and Timonen, said, “I think we’re fine.”

“Every game's different,” he said. “I think when you're not playing much, you want to play it safe, keep it simple as best you can. We'll work our way through it.”

If the Blackhawks do work their way through it, it will still probably be with their top four playing a bulk of the minutes. The Blackhawks had plenty of rest entering this series, so those four should be fine in that respect. But it’s not just the minutes. They’ll take more of a beating in this series than they have the previous ones. As Ryan Kesler said following Sunday’s game, “When you get guys playing a ton of minutes, it’s going to wear them down. We’ve got to invest in them physically.”

The Blackhawks will make adjustments heading into Game 2. They always do after a loss. The defensive depth, or lack thereof in Rozsival’s absence, was going to be a concern entering this series. It still is.

Blackhawks edge out Senators in shootout: 'It was really nice to get a win'

Blackhawks edge out Senators in shootout: 'It was really nice to get a win'

It was a rare sight to see the Blackhawks in a shootout on Wednesday night.

It was just the second time this season — and first time at the United Center — that the Blackhawks made it past 3-on-3 overtime. 

The last came on Dec. 2, 2017, a 3-2 shootout loss to the Stars in Dallas. On Wednesday night, the Blackhawks were on the other end, beating the Ottawa Senators 3-2 in a seven-round shootout. Nick Schmaltz netted the game-winner.

"We'll take it," coach Joel Quenneville said. "I thought we had a decent game tonight. Overtime not so good, I liked the shootout victory, Fors made some big saves for us particularly as the game got deeper. Our third was OK, I thought our first two were way better, and overtime we gave up some high quality, some bells were rings for a bit there. But it was nice to see the shootout win."

Patrick Kane had a goal and an assist, recording another multi-point game, his 16th of the season.

"I mean we need every point we can get at this point," Kane said. "There's still belief in this locker room. Obviously we need to go on quite a run and have a big record here down the stretch. But take it a game at a time and nice to get two points."

Anton Forsberg was a big reason the Blackhawks even recorded those two points. The 25-year-old netminder stopped 34 of 36 shots and made a handful of big saves down the stretch.

"It was really nice to get a win for sure," Forsberg said. "I would love to have a lot more wins, but right now just gotta look forward and get as many wins as possible."

Added Quenneville: "I think it was good for him to win a game the way he did. Lot of shots were on the line, as we progressed, got deeper, hitting the point first was big for him and for us and then finding a way to get the extra one was a good win."

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Senators

NBC Sports Chicago

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Senators

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Ottawa Senators tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. Trade chips.

The Blackhawks have reached the point in their season where they have no choice but to become sellers before the Feb. 26 deadline, and we saw that when they traded Michal Kempny to the Washington Capitals on Monday for a conditional third-round pick in 2018. Tommy Wingels could also be an attractive piece for a team looking to fill out their depth.

The Senators will definitely be sellers, and wow do they have some names potentially on the market that can fetch large returns: Derrick Brassard and Mike Hoffman are two players who log top-six minutes on a nightly basis and also have term left on their contract, which is great for teams looking to load up for this year and beyond.

The biggest name to watch, probably in the league altogether, is Erik Karlsson, who could be on the move if a team offers a big enough package for the Senators to pull the trigger now as opposed to in the offseason if they feel him re-signing is a long shot. He was the best defenseman last season, and if a team steps up to get him, they're getting two possible postseason runs out of him.

2. Artem Anisimov's experiment at left wing not working.

Joel Quenneville has tried rekindling the magic between Anisimov, Nick Schmaltz and Patrick Kane as of late, only this time Anisimov is playing the wing and it just hasn't been very effective. The trio was on the ice for each of the two 5-on-5 goals the Kings scored on Monday, and Anisimov completely lost his man on the first one.

It's important to establish a consistent left winger for Schmaltz and Kane, and maybe putting Alex DeBrincat up there is something you consider going forward as part of a long-term solution. Move Anisimov back down as the third-line center to play in more of a defensive role and continue using his big body on power plays for his offensive abilities might be the best bet.

3. Win the special teams battle.

In their last meeting against Ottawa on Jan. 9, the Blackhawks went 4-for-6 on the power play and 4-on-4 on the penalty kill in an 8-2 win. And those are two areas to look out for again.

The Senators own the 28th-ranked power play with a 16.1 percent success rate and 29th-ranked penalty kill with a 74.5 percent success rate. Get ready for another offensive outburst?