Moving outward from the crease, it’s now time to take a look at arguably the Blues’ strongest group as a whole, their defensemen. From top to bottom it’s one of the deeper and more balanced groups in the league, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some soft, stupid, and ugly spots the Hawks can attack and exploit.
Alex Pietrangelo & Jay Bouwmeester
The Blues’ top pairing features two very similar players in Pietrangelo and Jabe O’Meester, and they both log heavy minutes in all situations for River Scum. Both are tall and sturdily built, but not necessarily brick shithouses with Petro listed at 6’3″ 201lbs and Jabe at 6’4″ 215. Both are very mobile for their size, and while tall, they’re a bit on the gangly side, and don’t particularly make themselves known physically. They’re rangey, positionally sound, and swift. Basically like twin giant versions of Duncan Keith, though not that degree of wheels.
Among the Blues’ other d-men, this pairing sees far and away the toughest competition at even strength, though they do get the benefit of more offensive zone starts could normally be expected facing the other teams’ toughest forwards, which is a function of Jabba The Hitch’s swarming team defense. And even in doing so, both are significantly above water in their Corsi shares. Both have made significant scoring contributions from the blueline as well, using their keen passing abilities and abilities to get shots through traffic. Pietrangelo has the advantage of a right handed shot, and parlayed it into 8 goals and a team-high 43 assists. All told there aren’t a lot of holes here.
Kevin Shattenkirk & Barret Jackman
Here’s where things start to get a little soft and stupid for the Blues. Kevin Shattenkirk is an offensive dynamo, with 10 goals from the blue line to go along with 35 assists. But Shat gets the benefit of starting 58% of his shifts in the offensive zone, far and away more than any other defenseman which is him being sheltered, plain and simple. Despite having a giant face, Shattenkirk is actually undersized at just 6′ tall on a good day, and can get outmuscled in his own end when he can find his way around it. But if the Hawk forwards give him even the slightest bit of leeway to break out with the puck, he can make things happen with his feet or an outlet pass in a hurry.
In theory, toilet baby Barret Jackman, who played the most time with Shattenkirk during the season, is supposed to have some of the size, snarl, and centerfielder tendencies to cover for his partner’s walkabouts. But now at at 33, Jackman is losing a step he never really had in the first place, and can be taken wide with speed by basically anyone among the Hawks’ forwards other than Bollig or Handzus. Not to mention his propensity to take a dumbfuck penalty at the precisely the wrong time (or right time, depending on perspective). And he will be absolutely garaunteed to be targeting Toews and Kane along with being at the center of countless post-whistle slapdick sessions.
Roman Polak, Ian Cole, Jordan Leopold, Carlo Colaiacovo
And now here’s where the fun starts. Among the bottom portion of the defensive corps, only Roman Polak and his jowls are the serious regulars here. Polak is in the dungeon and away from sunlight where he belongs among the rest of the group, only getting 45.5 of his zone starts away from his own net. He’s made chicken salad out of the job he’s been given though, flipping the ice 50.1 of the time.
He’s done so and will likely continue to do so with a rotating cast of ne’er-do-wells in Ian Cole, Jordan Leopold, and Carlo Colaiacovo. All three provide a little bit more offensive upside than Polak, though that’s damning with faint praise. Leopold has been hurt most of the season and only played 27 games, but played in two games in April including the finale and jumped right back in at nearly 19 minutes. Cole is a first round pick from 2007 that still hasn’t really gained traction in the league yet, but he’s got the tools to make something offensively of the limited opportunities Jiminy Glick gives him. Colaiacovo didn’t start the year on a roster after washing out of Detroit only playing 6 games last year.
Of course, these bottom two pairings come with the caveat that they could be switched up at any time to load up on more offense and defense within a given game situation, but Jabe and Petro figure to be inseparable, and will most likely get the Toews assignment when at home. The key will be for Quenneville to pick his spots on home ice on when to attack the likes of Jackman and Polak with speed.