Hearing a pair of young defensemen say they “take pride in defending hard” and “being reliable defensively” must be music to the ears of Jeremy Colliton.
But it strikes a much nicer chord when the play of those defensemen on the ice matches the words coming out of their mouths.
Those words came from Connor Murphy and Carl Dalhstrom, the Blackhawks most consistent defensive pairing of late.
“Him and Murphy have done a great job playing hard minutes against really good players,” said Colliton. “I view it as a huge positive - the progression they’ve shown. I think they’re a big part of why we’ve been getting a lot more points lately.”
Murphy returned early in December after missing an extended period of time due to a back injury, while Dahlstrom missed making the team out of camp and later was recalled from Rockford. They’ve been paired together since Dahlstrom made his season debut on December 12th against the Penguins and there is no doubt that their consistency has paid dividends on the Blackhawks blue line.
“Connor is a great guy and an even better player. I really like playing with him,” said Dahlstrom. “I think both of our type of games really suit each other, really trying to break up plays early.”
As a team, the Blackhawks allowed 3.7 goals per game in their first 30 contests of the season. Since Murphy’s return, they have allowed 3.44 goals per game as a team. A lot of it has to do with better defensive play all around, as the team gets settled in with Colliton’s new systems. But Murphy and Dahlstrom have played a big part. In 16 games, Murphy has a +8 rating while Dahlstrom owns a +5 in his 14 games.
“It’s nice to take pride in playing defensive roles. I think I’ve had good chemistry with Dahlstrom and playing against some good forwards,” said Murphy after the Winter Classic. “We just take pride in defending hard.”
And while they may not be putting up the offensive stats like fellow defenseman Eric Gustafsson has been, Colliton has noticed their play on both ends of the ice.
“They’re competing hard, they’re winning battles, they’re willing to be physical, they get us out of [the] d-zone, and then those are the times you can potentially create offense,” said the 33-year old head coach. “That’s a huge benefit to our team.”
For Dahlstrom, getting a taste of the NHL last season helped him boost his confidence, knowing he can hang with the game’s best. Dahlstrom spent a majority of last season in Rockford under Colliton, and that familiarity has helped his transition this season as well.
“I know what he wants from me, what the whole coaching staff wants from me,” said Dahlstrom. “It’s nice to get the trust from the coaches to play against the top lines.”
Dahlstrom even went as far as claiming that he has an even greater comfort level in the NHL than he did playing in the AHL with the IceHogs.
“I don’t know why I seem to find a better level up here,” said Dahlstrom. “Obviously the players up here are better, and you’re playing with better players, but you’re also playing against better players. Really just focusing on defense and being reliable defensively might be a big key from me.”
And the Murphy-Dahlstrom pairing has been a big key in steadying the Blackhawks blue line…just like everyone predicted.