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Tough times for Chicago defense

Thursday, 03.18.2010 / 3:07 PM / NHL Insider

By Josh Brewster - NHL.com Correspondent

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Tough times for Chicago defense
Injuries to Brent Seabrook and Brian Campbell will test the mettle of the Chicago Blackhawks.
LOS ANGELES -- When Brent Seabrook took a forearm to the face courtesy of Anaheim's James Wisniewski Wednesday night, it was the second of a one-two punch that rocked the foundations of one of the League's best defenses.

Seabrook, after delivering a hit on Corey Perry Wednesday night in Anaheim, was hit by Wisniewski behind the Anaheim net. He immediately fell backwards, stunned by the blow.

It isn't often that you see two of a club's top three defensemen knocked from the lineup, but that has happened with Brian Campbell lost for the season on a hit from Alex Ovechkin Sunday that saw Ovechkin suspended two games, and Seabrook lost Wednesday night.

With the Blackhawks second in the Western Conference with 94 points, second to San Jose, their lofty position in a so-far successful season is under grave threat.

These aren't run-of-the-mill talents on the shelf. Seabrook won gold at the Olympics, and Campbell is a franchise defenseman, signed to a long pact through 2015-16. The two have combined for 11 goals from the blue line – Seabrook scored his fourth Tuesday night – and 62 total points.

Now, with Campbell out for the remainder of the regular season at least, and Seabrook's status uncertain, the Blackhawks are under pressure defensively.

With the injury, Duncan Keith is now the main man when previously he was one of three elite Chicago defensemen. Keith has been his minute-munching self, ranking second in the League with an average of 26:43 per game. After winning gold alongside Seabrook in Vancouver, Keith will be in the spotlight like never before.

The Blackhawks rank fifth overall in team goals-against, at 2.45. Their goaltending has been good with Antti Niemi and Cristobal Huet carrying the load, but the club's employment of the trio of Keith, Seabrook and Campbell has been integral to Chicago's ability to keep the puck out of the net.

GM Stan Bowman is surely pleased he had the foresight to acquire veteran defensive depth from Anaheim in the form of Nick Boynton, who made his Chicago debut Tuesday night -- ironically, against the Ducks -- after a call-up from Rockford (AHL). Boynton made an impression on his new teammates, starting the game alongside Nik Hjalmarsson. He also fought Wisniewski with 53 seconds left.

The Blackhawks have yet to call up reserves from AHL Rockford or elsewhere. For now, in lieu of call-ups, it appears that the Blackhawks will go with Boynton, swing man Dustin Byfuglien, and lean more heavily on Jordan Hendry.

Whether it works down the stretch will have an impact on Chicago's ability to hold a top position – and home advantage in the playoffs -- in the Western Conference. Chicago trails San Jose by two points, while Vancouver presses from third place, just five points back with 89.

The 26-year-old Hendry will likely be pressed into action far beyond his average 11:33 minutes. He logged 12:44 Tuesday, seeing action with Brent Sopel and Boynton. Hendry has spent the entire season in Chicago, appearing in 31 games. Undrafted, Hendry first signed with the Blackhawks in 2006.

After the injury, Byfuglien, who has played defense previously for the club, returned to a familiar role on the blue line.

"It wasn't really easy at all," said Byfuglien of his return to defense during a fiery contest which included two fights in addition to the questionable hit on Seabrook. "It was hard, they've got a fast team, a tricky team. I just had to sit back, watch the game and move the puck."

Byfuglien filled in at Seabrook's spot, alongside Keith, and chipped in as a partner for Boynton at times. It's entirely conceivable that the Blackhawks will continue Byfuglien's defensive assignment.

Byfuglien says that the Blackhawks are going to have to look at the incident as a wake-up call.

"We're going to have to start cracking down, and the League, with the hits," Byfuglien said. "It's getting dangerous for guys to be out there, and we're going to maybe have to be more physical ourselves. Start playing the body more and teams will start sitting back a bit."

As for his former teammate Wisniewski landing such a blow, Byfuglien was surprised.

"It's not really (Wisniewski's) game, it's not the type of guy he is," Byfuglien said.

Coach Joel Quenneville spoke plainly after the game.

"If you hit a guy without the puck, you can kill a guy. It's the most dangerous hit in the history of the game alright? And he tried to hurt him. That's not intent?" -- Joel Quenneville

"If you hit a guy without the puck, you can kill a guy," Quenneville told reporters. "It's the most dangerous hit in the history of the game alright? And he tried to hurt him. That's not intent?

Quenneville suggested that Sunday's hit that downed Campbell paled in comparison to the shot that Seabrook took.

"We can argue the Ovechkin hit (on Campbell)," Quenneville said in reference to the hit on Campbell Sunday. "But tonight's (by Wisniewski) is a different category. It's not up to me to decide what's next, but it's the most dangerous hit in the game."

Quenneville says that the League's disciplinary processes must take charge of the situation. He rejects the idea that justice should be meted out by players in future games.

"That's why these procedures are in place," said Quenneville, rejecting the idea that the Blackhawks would have to settle the score on the ice. The Blackhawks coach said potential supplementary discipline is rightly a League decision.

"It's not up to me to decide what's next."

"We'll see," said Quenneville tersely, when asked to speculate as to the extent of Seabrook's injury.
Quote of the Day

Right now I'm just happy to be back and get through this season and make sure I do my job. I've never had an issue with having to prove myself again and I'll try to do it again. We'll see where it takes me.

— Defenseman Torey Krug on signing with the Boston Bruins
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