EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — Thanks to a mix of good fortune and good anticipation, the puck came right to Trevor Daley’s stick midway through the third period of a one-goal game Wednesday night in San Jose. Daley, who had read the play beautifully and went on the attack, was all alone in the slot, maybe five or six feet in front of the goal, with nary a defender within stick’s length.
He shot wide. Way wide.
Last season, a charmed season for Daley, he probably scores on that shot. And plenty of others that have been swallowed up by a goalie, deflected wide, or were just flat-out mis-hit. Daley had 16 goals and 22 assists in 68 games last season, both career highs. Through 22 games this season, he has zero goals and five assists.
“Last year was a little out of the ordinary for myself,” Daley said. “It was a lot of breaks. A LOT of breaks. I’ve been around long enough to understand that. To do that all the time, I mean, I’d like to, I try to every night. But I don’t know if I’m going to be that lucky every night.”
When the Blackhawks acquired Daley in the Patrick Sharp trade over the summer, the hope was that he could replace Johnny Oduya (who eventually signed with Daley’s old team, the Dallas Stars) as the team’s No. 4 defenseman, even though they’re basically polar opposites in terms of style. Oduya was the low-scoring, ever-reliable stay-at-home defenseman, while Daley was the high-scoring, defensively liable blue-liner.
But Daley’s been more focused on his defense under Joel Quenneville than he was with the freewheeling Stars. And while Trevor van Riemsdyk has assumed Oduya’s old job as the No. 4, Daley is holding his own as the Hawks’ No. 5. After an occasionally bumpy start to the season, Daley looks more comfortable defensively and is taking more chances offensively now that he has steady veteran Michal Rozsival at his side, rather than a rotating cast of inexperienced youngsters.
Daley had some of the worst possession stats of any defenseman in the league last season. This year, thanks in part to a heavy dose of offensive-zone starts, he’s among the Hawks leaders. The team is controlling a healthy 55.9 percent of shot attempts when Daley is on the ice.
“At the end of the day, I’m a defenseman,” Daley said. “Whatever team you’re on, as a defenseman, you’d better keep the puck out of the net. My job’s not to score goals, it’s to keep the puck out of our net and chip in when I can.”
Quenneville seemed cool on Daley early in the season, and his name has been bandied about in trade rumors because of his cap hit ($3.3 million) and the emergence of Viktor Svedberg and Erik Gustafsson. But Quenneville believes the 32-year-old is turning a corner at both ends of the ice. He had two assists last Saturday in Vancouver, after having just three in the first 20 games.
“It’s nice to see points to show there is some production there,” Quenneville said. “But it seemed like he had the puck a lot, had more attack in his mind-set, and the play recognition offensively was there. I thought he defended better, as well. Him and Rozy look like they’re a real solid pair.”
At the start of the season, Marian Hossa — who knows a thing or two about changing teams in the middle of your career — said it would take 15 to 20 games for all the new faces in the lineup to feel comfortable in the Hawks’ system. Daley, who spent the first 11 years of his career in Dallas, found that out the hard way. But now he knows what Quenneville wants — quick, hard passes out of the defensive zone; joining the rush whenever possible; finding that tricky balance between aggressive and smart.
And it’s starting to come more naturally.
“I’m starting to get there,” Daley said. “There are still times when you get out there and you’re thinking too much. But the game’s just about reacting, and the quicker you get that the more reps you take, it becomes habit. And for me, I think it’s starting to become habit now.”
NOTE: Teuvo Teravainen (upper body) said he’s good to go, and Quenneville said he “could play” Friday against Anaheim. Corey Crawford will start in goal.