It’s amazing how many factors are interrelated in a hockey game.
Take the Blackhawks. They’re playing without Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa (both are expected out at least until after Christmas), yet so far, Chicago is managing to win without the two stars.
Apparently, the Blackhawks are 3-2-1 with both players out of the lineup, which isn’t a bad record. Devils coach John MacLean would kill for that record.
Because the team in down two stars, Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville is tightening his defense. Lately, he’s been having his defensemen play opponents very closely, maintaining good gap control.
Gap control is a pet peeve of mine. I can’t stand defensemen who back up all the way into the defensive zone, leaving two yards between themselves and the forward. They’re allowing their forward all kinds of time and space to make a pass or make a move. I suspect the huge gap is because the defenseman doesn’t want to be caught pinching and out of position, but at the end of the day, it’s probably better to be aggressive and force the forward to do something, rather than giving them time to make a smart read while in the offensive zone.
So Quenneville is handling gap control and the defense seems to be doing well with it.
The next (and final) line of defense is goaltending. Goalie Corey Crawford has been solid, winning nine of his last 12 starts (and including an ugly cleanup job for goaltending partner Marty Turco).
So is Crawford playing well or is he the recipient of better defense? It’s probably a combination of the two. But Turco has been horrible in December, with a 7.31 goals against and a .717 save percentage in just 81 minutes of play. So the defense isn’t that game-saving. Or at least, it hasn’t been for Turco.
So even though the Blackhawks are missing some important pieces, they have other pieces clicking well.
That’s what makes for a successful NHL team. Of course, you want all of your pieces excelling all of the time. But in the absence of that, you at least want some pieces to thrive when others are struggling, hoping the benefits of the one will cancel out the challenges created by the other.