Key to the Season: Two & Seven
You can talk all you want about Patrick Kane’s wrist. You can talk all you want about Corey Crawford’s glove. Heck, you can talk all you want about Dan Carcillo’s fists. But if you want to know the true key to the Blackhawks season, then you need look no further than two numbers.
Two and Seven.
Those are of course the numbers Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook wear on their sweaters. And the difference between the last two seasons is night and day.
When the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup two years ago, it was because of tremendous play by the defenseman. Sure, Antti Niemi had himself a nice little playoff run. But his job was made much easier because of the play of Keith and Seabrook. That season, the Blackhawks faced the least amount of shots in the NHL, 25.1 per game, which was tops in the NHL. Last season, that number rose to 28.7.
Now, not all of the blame should be put on Keith and Seabrook, but when you dig deeper, you can spot more discrepancies.
The easiest stat to look at is obviously plus/minus. In 2009-2010, 2 & 7 were a combined +41. Last season, the tandem was a combined -1.
We all know that Joel Quenneville likes to mix up his pairings, but Keith and Seabrook were inseparable. They were like peanut butter and jelly. They were like yin and yang. They were a stone wall in front of the crease and they logged tons of minutes on the ice.
Last year, however, they were more like oil and vinegar. The ice time didn’t change much, but it certainly looked like it took its toll as they both looked tired after such a long Cup run and short offseason. Oh yeah, they also won a Gold Medal in the Olympics.
Keith went from Norris Trophy winner to mediocre defenseman in the blink of an eye. On occasion he was out of position. He committed way more turnovers. He forced himself up the ice with the puck. Often times he looked more like a rookie than Nick Leddy.
Imagine if the Red Wings replaced Niklas Lidstrom with a league average d-man. Imagine if the Predators replaced Shea Weber with a league average d-man. Imagine if the Bruins replaced Zdeno Chara with a league average d-man.
I’m sure Keith felt a lot of pressure coming into last season. They were defending Stanley Cup Champions and he was arguably the best defenseman in the league. He forced things too much, which resulted in a lot of those previously mentioned turnovers. Nothing kills you more than turnovers in your own zone.
And after game seven in Vancouver this spring, the Blackhawks would know all too well.
If 2 & 7 go back to being the 2 & 7 we all knew and loved, the Blackhawks could be hosting a big party downtown once again.
For more, follow me on Twitter: http://twitter.com/SBekovic