Blackhawks defense needs to be strong vs. Wild


Blackhawks defense needs to be strong vs. Wild

The Blackhawks’ goaltending switcheroo was a big story through the first round. First it was Corey Crawford, then Scott Darling, then Crawford again.

Some of the switching was done because of the goaltender’s performance, but mostly, those changes occurred more because of the guys in front of the goalies.

“We have to do a better job defensively,” Marian Hossa said. “Because we don’t help our goalies much.”

And there it was, in all its honesty, following the Blackhawks’ series-clinching victory over the Nashville Predators on Saturday night. Because outside of a few periods in that series against the Predators, the Blackhawks’ team defense struggled. And it has to be better heading into the second-round series against the Minnesota Wild.

[MORE BLACKHAWKS: Stanley Cup Playoffs: Schedule set for Blackhawks-Wild]

The Predators fired 232 shots over six games, an average of 38.7 shots per game. Keep in mind two of those games went multiple overtimes, so that makes a difference. Still, it wasn’t as much the number of shots as the quality of shots the Blackhawks allowed. The first few minutes of that final game were a good example: Over those opening Game 6 minutes, James Neal and Matt Cullen faced little resistance en route to the Blackhawks net.

The Blackhawks’ team defense was at its best at the end, seemingly prompted by Crawford replacing Darling midway through the first period of Game 6 on Saturday night. After allowing 12 shots during Darling’s time — the first 11 minutes, 16 seconds of the game — the Blackhawks allowed just 13 shots the rest of the way.

“Better on all aspects of our game, be it 5-on-5, defensive zone, neutral zone, offensive zone,” coach Joel Quenneville said on what has to improve. “We had a couple of bad starts. We can’t give up 3-1, 3-0 leads and (hope to) come back and win two games in a series. Hopefully that’s the lesson.”

[SHOP BLACKHAWKS: Get a Duncan Keith jersey right here]

Duncan Keith agreed.

“It isn’t fair to the goalie how we played, Corey the first few times, Darls (on Saturday night),” Keith said. “We know we have great goaltending. It’s not that; it’s how we play in front of him. We pulled it together because that’s not acceptable.”

The Blackhawks pulled it together in the closing periods against the Predators. They played the type of team defense that’s become synonymous with them. That’s the type of defense they’ll need if they want to keep going further, too.

“There are certain periods of time when, I wouldn’t call it soppy, but we’re not responsible in our zone,” Hossa said. “It doesn’t matter who’s in the net; it’s tough for them to stop everything. When we play tighter defensively we play a better team game.”

NHL Draft Profile: F Brady Tkachuk

NHL Draft Profile: F Brady Tkachuk

From June 17-21, Charlie Roumeliotis will profile two prospects per day — 10 total (five forwards, five defensemen) — leading up to the NHL Draft.​

Brady Tkachuk

Position: Forward
Height: 6-foot-3
Weight: 196 pounds
Shoots: Left

Scouting report:

"I know Tkachuk isn't a center, but Ryan Getzlaf (Anaheim Ducks) is another player who comes to mind with his combination of size, strength, skill and nastiness. Tkachuk has impressive hand skills and his upside has only begun because I think there's lots of maturity and growth to come. I've seen his speed and skating improve each of the past three years and I think he'll still get stronger and his balance will get better. His man strength will come and it'll be like, 'Oh boy, look out.'"

NHL player comparable: Matthew Tkachuk/Wayne Simmonds

Fit for Blackhawks:

If you're looking for a player that checks all the boxes in this year's draft, it's Tkachuk. And man could the Blackhawks use a player like him.

He's got offensive skill, willingly goes to the greasy areas, can provide net-front presence while playing a top-six role, and perhaps the most important part for the Blackhawks: he's very close to NHL ready. The Blackhawks will be patient with whoever they draft, but there's also some urgency to turn things around in 2018-19.

If they can draft a player like Tkachuk who can potentially jump into the lineup as early as this upcoming season, that would be ideal. Because he's the type of player that can make an impact, not just get by.

NHL Draft Profile: D Quinn Hughes

NHL Draft Profile: D Quinn Hughes

From June 17-21, Charlie Roumeliotis will profile two prospects per day — 10 total (five forwards, five defensemen) — leading up to the NHL Draft.​

Quinn Hughes

Position: Defenseman
Height: 5-foot-10
Weight: 170 pounds
Shoots: Left

Scouting report:

"He's got the puck skills, is a good skater, and is a guy with some high-end offensive talent. He wants to get right in there and play where it's hard and where you get rewarded. When he gets that puck on his stick, he wants to bury it."

NHL player comparable: Torey Krug/Kris Letang

Fit for Blackhawks:

It's no secret the Blackhawks are looking to restock their pipeline with some high-end defensemen. Henri Jokiharju and Ian Mitchell are on the way. But the former isn't a lock to be a full-time NHLer this season and the latter will continue playing in college for the 2018-19 season.

Hughes, who shined at Michigan and the IIHF World Championship with Team USA, would have the best chance of the three to crack the Blackhawks lineup first. The problem is, he likely won't be available at No. 8, so if Hughes is the guy they're locked in on, they'd need to trade up to grab him. 

If they did that, Hughes would give the Blackhawks a third blue line prospect they can get excited about. He's a left-handed shot, which evens out the balance in the system, and he would become a prime candidate to eventually replace Duncan Keith as the team's No. 1 defenseman.