By Adam Hess
Since the Blackhawks acquired defenseman Rob Scuderi for Trevor Daley earlier this month, head coach Joel Quenneville has been playing Scuderi alongside fellow old-as-dirt defenseman Michal Roszival most of the time. And in a turn of event that should surprise no one, the performance of that pair of two old, slow defensemen has been bad.
The issues that Scuderi’s presence in the lineup cause are numerous, but the most prominent is that it doesn’t allow Quenneville to ice a competent third defensive pair that he can rely on in the tough situations. He knows that the Scuderi-Roszival pair is going to be dominated in the possession game, and as such, he has searched for ways to negate that.
“We’ve got really 10 defensemen we’re comfortable playing at any point, whether it’s injuries or trying to put a new player in there,” said GM Stan Bowman. “It’s nice that we have options. We haven’t had that kind of depth maybe in previous years, where we [now] have 10 guys that can easily play and you’re wondering if they can handle it.”
His default solution to this issue so far has been to play Scuderi and Roszival behind the line of Artemi Panarin, Artem Anisimov, and Patrick Kane. The idea there is likely that the Blackhawks best offensive line will drive the play, keep the puck in the offensive zone, and create scoring chances so that the other team cannot do that against the putrid third pair.
However, this has not worked out as Quenneville has intended. That line hasn’t played well when on the ice with the third pair, and this past Sunday’s game against the Carolina Hurricanes showed that very well.
While the possession numbers for the third pair were not actually horrible, as Scuderi and Rozsival were a +5 and +6 in the possession game, respectively, the Panarin-Anisimov-Kane line looked horrible. They could never truly get play going in their direction, and their numbers reflect it.
Between the three of them, there were just two scoring chances, both belonging to Anismov. They also did not do well in possession department, as Kane was a -1, Panarin a -2, and Anisimov a -5 in shot attempts. That is horrible, and is clearly not what the Blackhawks need to get out of their best offensive line.
As such, it’s time for Quenneville to stop anchoring his best line with his worst defensive pair. Moreover, it’s probably time to stop playing Rob Scuderi, and Monday’s recall of Erik Gustafsson from Rockford indicates that change is probably coming.
Quenneville needs to play Gustafsson in those situations that Roszival and Scuderi have been in, as Goose is a much better puck mover than the other two, and that is the change the blue line needs. If Panarin, Kane, and Anisimov get a strong skating, puck moving defenseman behind them, they have a much better chance of improving their play and getting back to the level they were at earlier this season.