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Blue line hardly lighting up the board for Blackhawks

by Brian Hedger
CHICAGO -- It hasn't become a big issue yet because the Chicago Blackhawks are averaging 3.2 goals a game, but hardly any of those markers are being credited to defensemen.

Assists aren't a problem, but when it comes to goals … they just aren't happening for Chicago's blueliners with a lot of regularity. As a whole, the Hawks' defensive core has scored a combined 13 goals heading into Wednesday night's game against the Buffalo Sabres at the United Center.

Steve Montador has 5 goals to lead the bunch, but two of those were scored when he was used as a forward on the top power-play unit. In fact, Brent Seabrook is the lone Hawks defenseman to score while playing the point on the power play -- and that's just one goal.

In an effort to boost production from the back end, Hawks coach Joel Quenneville has moved Montador to one of the points on the top power-play unit for Wednesday's game.

"He'll shoot it and we're looking for more shots," Quenneville said. "What we do after that is complementary to the type of players we have on (the PP units). Let's make sure we at least get some more pucks to the net and then go from there."

Simply firing more shots isn't the entire problem.

Top defenseman Duncan Keith is taking more slap shots of late, but the puck isn't going into the net. He hit the crossbar early in Sunday's win against the San Jose Sharks, and last week one of his blasts was partially blocked in the slot before ricocheting off teammate Jonathan Toews' head and then hitting the right post.

"Dunc's had some great looks lately," Quenneville said after Chicago's optional skate on Wednesday morning. "He's hit some posts and I like him active on the point, and he's been getting some opportunities to give us some offense on the back end."

Still, Keith hasn't scored in 28 games and no Hawks defenseman has found the back of the net in the past six. On Sunday, 20-year old Nick Leddy because just the fourth Hawks defenseman to put up 20 assists in a season before his 21st birthday -- but even he only has 2 goals thus far.

"We've just got to keep creating plays and helping the forwards by moving around in the (offensive) zone and just trying to get shots through and take a lot," said Leddy, who hasn't scored a goal since Halloween. "It's kind of read and react. Every play is different and I think it just depends on the play."

Quenneville, however, likes to see his defense joining the play on offense -- which usually leads to good scoring chances for somebody, even if it's not a defenseman who gets the shot.

"Sometimes you measure by goals or assists, but I still think our offense is helped by our defense getting involved in the play and off the point -- both Duncs and (Nick Leddy) and our whole group for that matter. Maybe they're not scoring at the rate we'd like, but at least they're giving us some offense from the back end -- which is noticed in our game."

Likewise, the lack of goals scored from the back end isn't noticed as much when the Hawks' talented group of forwards are scoring -- which they've been doing lately, even without the injured Patrick Sharp's 20 goals available for a few weeks.

"As a team, I still think we're getting some scoring and sometimes you're not really concerned … who's really producing for you," Quenneville said. "But over time you'll get stretches where it will be going in from the point and a lot of times you get those points on the power play -- and the power play hasn't been as hot as it was."
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