Chicago Blackhawks’ Depth on Defense Making Big Difference from a Year Ago

October 21st, 2011 by Jon Fromi Leave a reply »

The Chicago Blackhawks are back to winning games in the third period, thanks in part to a more reliable bottom pairing on the back end.

We haven’t seen a lot of Sami Lepisto in the regular season yet, but the three new faces at the fifth, sixth and seventh defensive spots are having the desired effect. GM Stan Bowman brought in Lepisto, Steve Montador and Sean O’Donnell to solidify the blue line and to try and cap the minutes played by the top pairings.

So far, mission accomplished.

The 40-year-old O’Donnell isn’t going to be mistaken for Eric Heiden, but has a plus-two rating and is proving quite valuable on the penalty kill unit, which has been outstanding. He and Montador have been able to play pivotal third-period shifts, as evidenced in Chicago’s 3-1 win over Colorado Thursday.

O’Donnell was also teamed several times with Duncan Keith down the stretch as the ‘Hawks looked to hold off the Avalanche. Aside from O’Donnell’s experience, Keith also benefits in another area: ice time.

It’s down. By well over four minutes a game. Brent Seabrook’s minutes have also dropped.

Last year, Keith already had four games of over 30 minutes to his credit by this point of the season. With Brian Campbell out of the lineup, Keith was overused trying to limit the damage of playing Jassen Cullimore, Nick Boynton, and John Scott in a key stretch of a game.

Campbell’s skating in Florida now, but through Thursday coach Joel Quenneville has been able to rely on his lower pairings to pull their weight. An improved Nick Leddy, along with the three new additions to the blue line, is a big part of that confidence.

Montador skated 12 minutes Thursday, but has been averaging over 14 minutes a game and has provided some puck-clearing ability sorely lacking in last season’s Blackhawks. Lepisto has appeared in just one game, but will see action if only to keep fresh legs on the ice.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see Lepisto in the lineup in the rematch against the Avalanche Saturday night in Chicago. Quenneville may not want to mess with a winning hand right now, but anything that keeps Scott out of the sixth slot this season is a vast improvement.

Over the long haul, the spreading out of minutes throughout the defensive pairings is going to pay off. It already has helped produce two strong third periods in a pair of wins this week.

Read more NHL news on


Comments are closed.