Defense making big difference for Hawks

March, 20, 2012
3/20/12
10:43
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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Call it the Johnny Oduya effect. The Chicago Blackhawks are 8-1-1 since Oduya joined the team at the trade deadline, including Tuesday’s 5-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets that completed a season-series sweep.

Or maybe the Hawks defense was just due. It was fantastic in the win.

[+] EnlargeBrent Seabrook,
AP Photo/Jay LaPreteThe Blackhawks' Brent Seabrook, right, celebrates his goal against the Blue Jackets with teammate Andrew Shaw.
“I thought [our defensemen] had the puck a lot,” coach Joel Quenneville told reporters after the game. “I thought they were dangerous. It seems like our defensemen are getting their shots through. They’re a threat, not only just from the point. They’re making nice decisions.”

And as a result they are putting up some points. Duncan Keith had a career-high four assists while Brent Seabrook scored again. Seabrook has points in five straight games and was on the ice for all five Hawks goals.

“Our defense, offensively, has really helped us,” Quenneville said.

As much as Oduya has helped solidify the position, it still comes down to the top duo executing on both ends of the ice if the Hawks really want to do some damage in the upcoming postseason. Seabrook, in particular, is playing his best hockey. He’s killing plays and lighting up the scoresheet. He has 14 shots over his last four games and he’s plus-8 over his last three.


“We’ve played together for a long time,” Keith said. “We have a lot of chemistry there. He’s a big, strong guy who makes the good play so he’s easy to play with.”

Keith is also finding his form. When he’s had issues this year they’ve been more glaring than most, but when his play is solid he can go unnoticed. The four helpers on Tuesday stand out.

“Just trying to contribute,” he said. “There’s [under] 10 games left here, we just want to be all firing as best as we can. Some guys made some nice plays and finished off some plays.”

Then there is Oduya, who played a non-descript 23:13 against the Jackets. He registered one shot on net but did his job on defense as he has since coming over. Nick Leddy has been mostly solid as well, though he left Tuesday’s game after the Jackets’ Darryl Boyce sent him hard into the boards. Quenneville said Leddy’s exit was for “precautionary” reasons. Dylan Olsen and Niklas Hjalmarsson have been just fine as the third pair as well. Quenneville always preaches that good defense will lead to offense.

“They were good on the power play, or be it off the points, 5-on-5 situations, or in the rush or supporting the attack,” Quenneville said.

He just described about everything a defenseman is asked to do besides simply killing plays, which the blue-liners have done more often than not.

Again, the Hawks missed out on earning their first shutout of the season when Rick Nash scored in the third period, but does it really matter? The defense is playing its best of the year at the most important time: with the playoffs looming.

Slappers

  • Patrick Sharp reached the 30-goal plateau for the third time in his career. He has four goals in the last three games and nine points in his last six.

  • Marian Hossa recorded his 900th career point with his 29th goal of the season.

  • After the game Quenneville said he “believes” Jonathan Toews skated in Chicago as he recovers from a concussion.
    “Always good to see him on the ice,” Quenneville said. “Hopefully he’s progressing here, we’ll know more [Wednesday].”

  • The Blackhawks assigned forward Mark McNeill to the Rockford IceHogs before Tuesday's game.

    Quotable

  • “Would be nice once in a while.” -- Corey Crawford, jokingly, about not having a shutout this season.

  • “The [nine-game] losing streak we were on helped us more than hurt us… It taught us a few lessons on how to play the right way." -- Sharp
  • Jesse Rogers | email

    Chicago Cubs beat reporter
    Jesse joined ESPN Chicago in September 2009 and covers the Chicago Cubs for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN Radio 1000.

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    TEAM LEADERS

    POINTS
    Patrick Sharp
    PTS GOALS AST +/-
    4 2 2 0
    OTHER LEADERS
    GoalsP. Sharp 2
    AssistsJ. Toews 3
    +/-J. Oduya 5
    GAAC. Crawford 1.66