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Blackhawks Thu Mar 18 2010

Another game, another loss, another injured defenseman.

While the loss, the Hawks third straight, hurts a little for a team that needs to shake the Olympic break malaise that's enveloped it lately, the injury to Brent Seabrook on a blatant run and cheap shot by former Blackhawk James Wisniewski, really stings. Add in the fact that Saku Koivu's game-winning goal came off a horrible non-call as Ducks forward Corey Perry cross-checked defenseman Brent Sopel in the back as he leapt for the puck, and St. Patrick's Day left Blackhawks fan's feeling green.

I'm not one to blame the officiating, but it's obvious that the two most controversial calls went the Ducks way. Sopel was clearly pushed from behind before he had the puck, making the no call that followed mystifying and the ensuing goal all the more enraging. Regarding the Seabrook hit, Wisniewski left his feet, lead with his elbow, and hit a player directly in the face who had not touched the puck, leaving no shortage of penalties to call, and could have easily been a 5-minute major. As it was, Wiz got 2 minutes for charging and a phantom holding call on the Hawks Duncan Keith in the ensuing fight between the pair left the Hawks without any powerplay time, which could have changed the tenor of what was then a 1-1 game.

Wisniewski's a former Blackhawk who was traded to Anaheim last season, and while many fans liked his gritty style during his time here, it's hard to call the hit anything other than dirty and dangerous. And his post-game comments that he "didn't do anything wrong" and that he and Seabrook are "close friends" were pretty disgusting. ESPN is reporting this afternoon that Wisniewski has been suspended for 8 games, a more than fair punishment for a pretty heinous play.

While there's no news as of yet on Seabrook's status, a concussion seems likely. He even appeared to lose consciousness for a few seconds as he fell, though he was able to skate to the bench under his own power. With Brian Campbell already out for the regular season, any possible time Seabrook misses makes the Hawks D, already struggling a bit when healthy, all the more susceptible. Add in that defenseman Kim Johnsson is also ailing (though expected back possibly as soon as Saturday), and Chicago is looking mighty thin along the blue line these days. The team finished the game with forward Dustin Byfuglien shifting back to defense, a position he last played two seasons ago when breaking into the league. While it looks like he'll reprise that role tonight against the L.A. Kings, as no call-ups from Rockford have been announced, the lumbering Buff on the blue line is hardly a long-term solution.

Chicago will have to lean even more on Duncan Keith, who already is 2nd in the league, averaging 26:43 on the ice per game, but the key may be 22-year-old Niklas Hjalmarsson, who started to come into his own in last season's playoffs and has been continued his growth this year. While Hjalmarsson has done wonders adapting to the offensive-minded style of Campbell, he's now going to have to take the lead and show he can be both a solid, shut-down d-man who can quickly transition and chip in offensively. With no help in the minors other than NHL retreads Jassen Cullimore and Danny Richmond or a crop of inexperienced youngsters, the Hawks will also have to rely on the rest of their defenseman to play at peak level. While Brent Sopel, Jordan Hendry and newcomer Nick Boynton (who welcomed himself by taking on his former Duck teammate Wisniewski at the end of the game) won't put fear in any opponent, they are a group of veterans who know they need to step into some big shoes and play their best hockey.

It's safe to say that for a team that's been cruising along pretty steadily for most of the season, the Blackhawks are definitely hitting some major speedbumps the past few weeks. Between the anemic powerplay, the defenseman dropping like flies when they're not portraying pylons, and the scattershot play by both netminders, some of the Blackhawks weaknesses haven't been exposed as much as broadcast on a Jumbotron for the rest of the NHL to see. And with the playoffs beginning in just over 3 weeks, the Hawks will have to figure some things out quick while relying on defensive spare parts.

 
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