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Blackhawks' top defensemen seeing major minutes

by Brian Hedger

SABRES (0-1-0) at BLACKHAWKS (1-0-0)


CHICAGO -- It was only one game and it went to a shootout, but the Chicago Blackhawks still used their top defensemen more than they probably wanted to Thursday at the Dallas Stars.

Duncan Keith played a game-high 29:40 in the 3-2 win, up about five minutes from what he's logged per game the past two seasons, while Niklas Hjalmarsson played 25:06 and Johnny Oduya soaked up 25:02.

Brent Seabrook played 23:50, about his usual amount, but coach Joel Quenneville backed off rookie Trevor van Riemsdyk (11:43) and David Rundblad (6:25), who are getting the first crack at filling the gap following the trade of Nick Leddy to the New York Islanders a week ago.

"That's on us, kind of, to get [the coaches'] trust and confidence to put us out there in some different situations, maybe, that in Game 1 maybe we don't have that trust built up that you only get from playing in games and showing them you can do it," said van Riemsdyk, who made his NHL debut against the Stars. "I think it would be best for everyone if we could take a couple minutes away from some of those guys and let them get a little extra rest, so they have a little more fuel in the tank. But it's on us to get that confidence built up [with] the coaches."

Rundblad and van Riemsdyk will get another chance to prove themselves Saturday in the Blackhawks' home-opener against the Buffalo Sabres at United Center (8:30 p.m. ET). Meanwhile, Kyle Cumiskey, another hopeful to replace Leddy, will be a healthy scratch for the second straight game.

If none of them earns the role outright, then losing Leddy might prove to be a bigger deal than it might've seemed at the time of the trade.

Leddy played the left point on the third pairing each of the past two seasons and played in every regular-season game last season. His speed is among the best in the NHL and his ability to carry the puck up the ice, through the neutral zone, could be difficult to replace.

Against Dallas, Quenneville started the game by splitting his usual second pairing of Oduya and Hjalmarsson, putting an experienced defender with each of the unproven guys. As the game progressed, he played Oduya and Hjalmarsson together and sat the young duo, especially in defensive zone starts.

Quenneville plans to start this game the same way, with Oduya and Hjalmarsson split, and is hopeful things will play out differently against Buffalo. Chicago is also playing without veteran Michal Rozsival (upper body injury), who could help stabilize the situation on defense whenever he returns.

"I'm sure they'll be comfortable," Quenneville said of van Riemsdyk and Rundblad. "I didn't mind the way they played. I think that [playing Thursday] will help and you probably get them more minutes. You get the matchup [you want] and probably don't have to change on the fly as much and hopefully they keep playing the same way they played the last game."

Here are the projected lineups:


Matt Moulson - Tyler Ennis - Drew Stafford

Marcus Foligno - Sam Reinhart - Chris Stewart

Cody Hodgson - Zemgus Girgensons - Brian Gionta

Nicolas Deslauriers - Cody McCormick - Torrey Mitchell

Josh Gorges - Tyler Myers

Mike Weber - Rasmus Ristolainen

Andre Benoit - Andrej Meszaros

Jhonas Enroth

Michal Neuvirth

Scratched: Tyson Strachan, Nikita Zadorov, Brian Flynn

Injured: Mark Pysyk (upper body), Jake McCabe (middle body), Matt Hackett (lower body), Patrick Kaleta (upper body)


Patrick Sharp - Jonathan Toews - Marian Hossa

Brandon Saad - Andrew Shaw - Patrick Kane

Bryan Bickell - Brad Richards - Ben Smith

Daniel Carcillo - Marcus Kruger - Jeremy Morin

Duncan Keith - Brent Seabrook

Niklas Hjalmarsson - Trevor van Riemsdyk

Johnny Oduya - David Rundblad

Corey Crawford

Antti Raanta

Scratched: Kyle Cumiskey

Injured: Michal Rozsival (upper body, arm), Kris Versteeg (lower body), Brandon Mashinter (lower body)

Status report: McCormick missed Sabres practice Friday because of an undisclosed issue. He passed a medical examination and made the trip to Chicago, where he'll center the fourth line. Sabres coach Ted Nolan switched up his lines from the season-opening 3-1 loss Thursday against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Reinhart, 19, is now centering Foligno (6-foot-3, 223 pounds) and Stewart (6-2, 231) on the second line instead of Hodgson and Gionta. It's in reaction to a big hit Reinhart took in the first game from Blue Jackets forward Jack Skille. Nolan hopes the bigger-bodied forwards will offer Reinhart some protection and free him up more with the puck. Girgensons will now center Hodgson and Gionta on the third line. … Quenneville said he'll look to get Cumiskey into a game at some point while Rozsival remains out of the lineup. Quenneville said the target date for Rozsival's return is sometime next week. Sharp, who missed practice Friday, participated in the morning skate and will play.

Who's hot: Enroth, who's getting his first opportunity to be a No. 1 goalie, got off to a good start to the season despite taking the loss against Columbus. He stopped 37 of 40 shots and helped kill three of four power plays. It was a continuation of his play from the preseason, when he went 2-0-0 with a 0.50 goals-against average and .983 save percentage. … Girgensons scored the lone goal for the Sabres in the season-opener against Columbus, making him the first player in franchise history to score the first goal in back-to-back seasons. … Kane has four goals and three assists in eight career games against the Sabres, the team he grew up watching in Buffalo. That included a goal in each of the two games against the Sabres last season, both Blackhawks victories. … Kane's goal to decide the shootout Thursday at the Dallas Stars was the 15th such goal of his career, which tied him for first among all active players. … Keith and Sharp each finished with two points against the Stars by assisting on each other's goals. ... Crawford stopped 32 of 34 shots at Dallas, including all 14 he saw in the second period, to earn the win and first star of the game honor.

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