Cumiskey in, Rundblad out for Game 2

10-171460575-smallDuring today’s practice, Joel Quenneville had Kyle Cumiskey skating on the Blackhawks’ third defensive pairing with Johnny Oduya in place of David Rundblad. Rundblad made his playoff debut in Game 1, but it didn’t go so well for him as he was one the ice and partially responsible for two of the Ducks’ four goals.

This lineup change shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone who has followed the Blackhawks closely. Quenneville has been known to tweak his lineup when things aren’t going well. That’s not to say that things literally aren’t going well for the Hawks (they played a solid first game of the series), but David Rundblad had a tough time adjusting to the uptempo, playoff style of hockey in Game 1; his first career postseason game. Therefore he is being replaced.

While this will also be Cumiskey’s first playoff game of the spring, there is reason to be a little optimistic about his presence in the lineup.

What Cumiskey brings is speed. At five feet, eleven inches tall, he’s not the biggest or strongest guy on the ice, but he is one of the fastest. In a series like this against a quick team in Anaheim, the more speed on the back end, the better. One way to think of Cumiskey is by thinking of Nick Leddy. Remember him? Good. Nick Leddy is one of the fastest skating defenseman in the NHL. While with the Hawks, Leddy was a key component of the Blackhawks’ fast paced style of play. He would regularly carry the puck up the ice himself and get it into the offense zone where the forwards would take over. The Hawks have always been a better team when their d-men can be quick with the puck and skate it into the offensive end.

I’m not saying that Kyle Cumiskey is another Nick Leddy, because he’s not. But if Cumiskey can be that extra speed on the back end that the Hawks have somewhat lacked this season, then that’s a good thing. Duncan Keith has been the fastest blue liner on the ice for the Hawks, and he’s really the only one who can and will carry the puck up the ice and into the offensive zone. If Cumiskey can provide at least a little bit of the same, that should only play into the hands of the style of hockey that the Blackhawks like the most. They are most effective while playing a fast, north-south brand of hockey.

I guess the only big question with Cumiskey is his defensive responsibility. Can he be reliable in the Hawks’ defensive zone and not lose his man in front of the net or turn the puck over? Again, his quickness should only help him cover more ground in the Hawks’ own end, but his decision making will have to be on par. The problem with Rundblad that resulted in Cumiskey being inserted into the lineup is that Rundblad seems incapable of making quick decisions. He’ll hold the puck too long before passing, or he’ll decide to try and thread the needle with a pass instead of making the simple play and clearing the zone.

While it looks right now as though the Hawks’ defensive pairings will be Keith-Hjalmarsson, Timonen-Seabrook, Oduya-Cumiskey, I wouldn’t expect those to stick. Quenneville has continuously switched up the d-pairings mid-game this postseason, and I see no reason why that would change now. Cumiskey should see more ice time than Rundblad, but whether or not that ends up happening remains to be seen. If he does, then the Blackhawks will be back to using basically five and a half defenseman like they were before the Rozsival injury.

Game 2 is a big one for the Hawks. Coming home tied 1-1 in the series is much different than being down 2-0. Given how well the Blackhawks have played at home this postseason, heading home 1-1 could give them a big advantage.

Leddy dealt; Another round of Carcillo

130107_gq_trout_aI’m a little late to the party on this one, but better late than never. On Saturday, the Blackhawks traded Nick Leddy to the New York Islanders in exchange for three prospects: T.J. Brennan, Ville Pokka, and Anders Nilsson. Both Brennan and Pokka are defensemen, while Nilsson is a goalie. This was a trade that we had all been holding our breath on for seemingly the last four months, but it finally happened. The Hawks needed to move someone off their NHL roster to get themselves under the salary cap, and that someone ended up being Nick Leddy, which wasn’t much of a surprise. The Leddy trade wasn’t the only news on Saturday, however. The Blackhawks also signed Dan Carcillo to a one-year contract, a move that has most Hawks fans scratching our heads.

Back to the Leddy trade. It appeared that one of Oduya or Leddy would end up being the player traded away to get the Hawks back under the NHL’s salary cap, and sure enough it ended up being Leddy. Leddy was first brought up to the NHL to begin the 2010-11 season, and he never left the scene. He never appeared in an AHL game prior to being brought up to the NHL, so his first few seasons with the Hawks were basically an example of learning on the job. While he did progress in certain areas each year while here in Chicago, Leddy never seemed to take that big next step towards becoming a top four, reliable NHL defenseman. Don’t get me wrong, his speed, puck moving, and offensive talents are elite for a d-man, but his ability to be an effective player in his own is what has held him back a bit. Joel Quenneville regularly sat Leddy late in close games because he simply couldn’t trust him to be on the ice during those times. That’s where Leddy has never shown much progression, and that’s a huge reason why he’s the one who got moved.

As for the players the Blackhawks received in return for Leddy, T.J. Brennan, 25, is the most valuable. Last year in the AHL he recorded 25 goals and 47 assists from the back end, and he was named the AHL’s most outstanding defenseman. Brennan has appeared in 40 NHL games in his career with the Sabres and Panthers, and he registered 4 goals and 7 assists in those 40 games. As you can tell from his numbers in the minors, Brennan is an offensive-defenseman who looks to be active in the offensive zone. I wouldn’t expect Brennan to make an appearance in the NHL this season, but you never know. He’s definitely deserving of it, but the Hawks appear to be set with Kyle Cumiskey and David Rundblad as their sixth and seventh defensemen.

940-toews-jonathan-8colNow to Carcillo. In case your memory is very limited and you have already forgotten, Carcillo was with the Hawks from 2011 to 2013 and was a part of the team that defeated Boston to win their second Cup in four years. His role ever since entering the NHL has been that of an agitator. He runs around looking to drill guys through the glass (despite his 6’0″, 200 lb. stature) and is always willing to drop the gloves. His biggest problem is taking dumb penalties and making illegal hits, something he’s been either fined or suspended for 10 times in his career. His job is basically going to be to take over at Brandon Bollig’s spot on the Hawks’ roster this year. He’s a very similar player to Bollig, only he has more skill and can play with better forwards. Still, I don’t like this move.

The Blackhawks have preached over recent years that their mission is to draft, develop, and deliver their prospects to the NHL, much like they did with Brandon Saad. Signing Dan Carcillo completely goes against that plan. When you have guys like Jeremy Morin, Teuvo Teravainen, and even Phillip Danault who look to be NHL-ready (especially Morin), why take away their potential playing time in the NHL by dressing Dan Carcillo in their place who has much less talent and is a far worse hockey player? I understand that Joel Quenneville likes to have that “enforcer” in his lineup, but at some point you just have to use your head and realize that the NHL has changed in recent years, and the role of the enforcer has all but evaporated. One of the keys to being an elite team in the NHL and to winning the Stanley Cup is having great depth on your team. Dan Carcillo is not the worst player you could have on your fourth line, but guys like Morin are better all-around hockey players who can put together more valuable minutes than Carcillo.

Unfortunately, that argument will probably never be a winning argument as long as Quenneville is in charge. He likes his enforcers, and that’s that. After all, the guy does have the third highest win total of any coach in NHL history, and he has led the Hawks to two Stanley Cups in the last five years, so he probably knows better than me. However, that doesn’t mean I can’t disagree with him on this matter.

Thanks for reading.

Blackhawks top Wings; Set franchise record

160210212_slideIt looked like tonight’s game between the Hawks and Wings was going to be a runaway victory for the home team after Duncan Keith’s powerplay goal just 2:24 into the game. As it turned out, this game was just the opposite.

The Blackhawks got off to a quick start in this one when Keith hammered in a missile of a slap shot past Jimmy Howard to give the Hawks a 1-0 lead and yet another powerplay goal. From that point on in the first period, the Blackhawks controlled the game and spent much of the period in the Red Wings’ own zone. You would have never known that the Hawks played a bruising game in Columbus just 24 hours earlier.

Once the second period began, the momentum almost immediately shifted in Detroit’s favor. The Hawks committed 4 penalties in the second period resulting in 4 Red Wings powerplays, including a 43 second 2-man advantage. While taking 4 penalties in a period is never a recipe for success, the Blackhawks killed off all 4 penalties with relative ease as their penalty kill continues to stay red hot. The Hawks ended up killing off all 6 penalties that they took in the game.

The third period evened out a little bit more compared to the second, but the Wings still controlled most of the play. Once the third began, you could definitely tell that the Blackhawks were fatigued from their game in Columbus on Saturday night. Johan Franzen scored 4:30 into the period to tie the game at one. The Blackhawks clearly had no legs under them and just couldn’t seem to skate the puck into Detroit’s zone, which resulted in a lot of play down by Crawford. Once they ended up getting it into Detroit’s zone, the Hawks couldn’t generate much offense. About 11:30 into the third, Jonathan Ericsson took a holding penalty on Jonathan Toews that gave the Hawks their second powerplay of the game. Even with the man advantage, the Blackhawks still struggled to get any kind of offense going and came up empty. Around a minute after that powerplay ended, Henrik Zetterberg was called for holding Jonathan Toews, again. This time around, the Hawks got a little bit more offense going and a couple shots on Howard, but again didn’t score. The game headed to overtime tied at 1.

In overtime, a nice rush into the Detroit end led by Viktor Stalberg resulted in Nick Leddy getting a snap shot by Jimmy Howard for the game winner. It was Leddy’s first goal of the year, and it gave the Blackhawks their 6th straight victory to being the season. This is the first time in franchise history that the Blackhawks have started a season 6-0.

While the Hawks clearly did not have the energy or strength in them that they had through their first 5 games, they still managed to find a way to win. This was the type of game that they would have almost certainly lost in either of the past 2 seasons. For whatever reason, they just seem to have found another gear this year and are playing with incredible confidence, speed, and skill.

They will need all of the speed and skill they can get in the next 2 weeks as they head out west on a 6-game road trip that takes them to Minnesota, Vancouver, Calgary, San Jose, and Phoenix. While the Hawks are currently 4-0 on the road, these next 6 games will be a huge test for them and a great evaluation of where they are at compared to some of the best teams in the Western Conference.