Thursday, Oct. 21, 2010
By Tracey Myers
I was finishing up Blackhawks interviews with my fellow media brethren on Wednesday night when I saw defenseman Brian Campbell at the front of the room. Campbell, who sprained the MCL in his right knee in late September, is close to returning. He's on schedule with his rehabilitation. He wanted to start skating three weeks from injury diagnosis date, and a few days ago coach Joel Quenneville said he's close to doing that.
That's all good news. But what may be even greater news is how the Blackhawks have adjusted in his absence. You've seen the results for yourself, folks: close games, none of which the Blackhawks have ever been out of, a four-game winning streak and burgeoning confidence. And that defense? Well, it's held up pretty damn well.
Consider what the Blackhawks lost when they lost Campbell. Talent, obviously. Big minutes, too. Strong special teams work. Campbell's absence could have been detrimental, a big problem for a team that, with a lot of new faces, was already figuring out chemistry and combinations.
So why did it work? The rest of the defensemen took on more work. And if some of those weren't faring so well, then the prime guys took on even more. Exhibit A: Duncan Keith. You could definitely make the case that he's taking on too many minutes. With the exception of one game, he's averaged more than 30 minutes per contest. But Keith, being the gamer he is, will keep on doing what his team needs him to do. Still, methinks when Campbell returns, Keith will be one of the happiest guys in that locker room.
Brent Seabrook has been steady. Niklas Hjalmarsson, who was shaky before serving a two-game suspension, is getting back to normal. Jassen Cullimore hasn't logged a ton of minutes in his last three games, but he's taking off some of the heat.
Then there's Nick Boynton. The 31-year-old, when asked a few weeks ago if he was ready to take on more minutes in Campbell's absence (Hjalmarsson was out on suspension at the time, too) said that's never a problem. It's getting enough minutes that is, he said. And Boynton has been tremendous: 23 minutes against St. Louis, 27 against Vancouver and 10 blocked shots in the two games combined. Those numbers will make you your goaltender's best friend; oh yeah, Boynton and Marty Turco's stalls are right next to each other in the Blackhawks locker room.
And Turco deserves credit, too. The goaltender is the last line of defense, as many a hockey coach has said through the years. Turco has now won four in a row, stopping 36 of 37 through regulation and overtime against Vancouver on Wednesday. He's still given up some goals he's not happy about -- the five-hole ones were a problem last year, too. But a four-game winning streak can't be all bad. Yes, I know those of you who aren't used to seeing him handle the puck get a little nervous. Relax and put the Mylanta bottle down. It'll be fine.
The Blackhawks weathered a big loss here. They've been used to it; they had to do it at the start of last season with a few Blackhawks, including Marian Hossa. Look how that turned out. In about two weeks it won't be just us media folks seeing Campbell post-game in a suit. Everyone will be seeing him on the ice. The Blackhawks managed just fine without him. They'll be that much better and stronger with him.
Tracey Myers is CSNChicago.com's Blackhawks Insider. Follow Tracey on Twitter @TramyersCSN for up-to-the-minute Hawks information.