Joel Quenneville shakes up Blackhawks’ defensive pairings
BY MARK LAZERUS email@example.com March 31, 2013 6:22PM
Updated: May 2, 2013 6:31AM
DETROIT — The sight of Niklas Hjalmarsson starting for the Blackhawks on Sunday wasn’t that surprising. The sight of him doing so alongside Duncan Keith was.
Coach Joel Quenneville shook up his defensive pairings for the first time all season, breaking up the long-standing duo of Keith and Brent Seabrook and the Swedish duo of Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya that played so well during the first half of the season that the two had taken over as starters for a stretch.
Seabrook skated with Nick Leddy, and Oduya was bumped down to the third pairing with Michal Rozsival.
‘‘We don’t mind the way they’re playing, but I think over the course of the year we’ve probably had a different look with some of the pairs here,’’ Quenneville said. ‘‘It’s something we might try, see how it looks, just in case. You can never [have] enough options, and usually you get a test of who can play with whom, how different pairs look.’’
If Quenneville was sending a message, it looked as though it was received in the Hawks’ 7-1 victory.
‘‘It started with our D-men,’’ goalie Corey Crawford said. ‘‘Seemed like they were cutting off everything at our blue line and had great sticks, cutting off passes. And on dump-ins, they were making it hard for their guys coming into the zone.’’
Oduya has had a particularly rough stretch lately. In his previous four games, he was a whopping minus-8, with no points, one hit and three blocked shots. He was a
plus-2 and played 20:17 on Sunday, the third-most on the team.
‘‘Everybody has stretches where things are going right, then some stretches where you’re on for some goals against that maybe you weren’t on for before,’’ Quenneville said. ‘‘And everybody has those stretches over the course of the season. We’re looking for consistency.’’
Quenneville said the Hawks’ position in the standings gives him a little flexibility in terms of experimenting during the final four weeks of the regular season.
‘‘You’re trying things and hoping that it works,’’ he said. ‘‘We’ve got some more options as we go forward.”
The Hawks killed off both their penalties against the Red Wings, making them a perfect 11-for-11 on the kill in their last six games. This follows a stretch in which the Hawks gave up seven power-play goals in four games. Quenneville said he is most pleased the Hawks only have had to kill 11 penalties in six games.
‘‘First of all, our discipline of not putting them on the power play has been in place,’’ he said. ‘‘We haven’t been giving them too many opportunities in games. It’s just [an] awareness to what we have to do. Those one or two kills in every game, they get the job done. It keeps us in the game and gives us a chance.’’
The Hawks caught a break when Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg was a late scratch with a lower-body injury.
‘‘He’s a great player,’’ Quenneville said. ‘‘Plays in all situations. It’s always a tough matchup when he’s on the ice. Missing a key guy like that, it certainly helped us.’’