COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Blackhawks’ defensive dilemma might have solved itself on Friday night, in the most unfortunate of ways.
Trevor van Riemsdyk went hard into the post while breaking up a Josh Anderson scoring chance late in the second period, and immediately went off to the dressing room holding his right arm or shoulder. He did not return for the third period. Should van Riemsdyk miss any significant amount of time, the Hawks will be back down to the typical seven defensemen on the roster. Which will prevent Hawks coach Joel Quenneville from making unusual decisions like he did in Friday’s game.
For two practices and a morning skate, Brian Campbell had skated outside the Hawks’ top six. It seemed all but inevitable that Campbell’s streak of 390 consecutive regular-season games played was going to come to an end Friday night. But Quenneville had other ideas.
Both Campbell and van Riemsdyk, who had been a healthy scratch the previous three games, were in the lineup. With Marian Hossa out (but expected to return from a lower-body injury Saturday against Toronto), the Hawks dressed seven defensemen and just 11 forwards.
“We want to get our defense in there,” Quenneville said. “[Van Riemsdyk] has been out too many games; we want him playing. And we feel that there are seven ‘D’, they all deserve to play, as well.”
For a moment, it appeared that Campbell — after 17 years as an NHL defenseman — was going to play left wing. Rookie Vinnie Hinostroza was a healthy scratch, and during warmups, Campbell skated with Nick Schmaltz and Ryan Hartman on the third line. It wouldn’t have been the first time Quenneville has done that. In recent seasons, defensemen Michael Kostka, Sheldon Brookbank and Rob Scuderi all got spins at wing.
But once the game started, Campbell was part of a full-blown seven-man rotation on defense, skating on his natural left side (he had spent the first four games on his off side) with either Brent Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarsson, and on the right side during the power play with usual partner, rookie Gustav Forsling. Meanwhile, the forward lines changed frequently, often shift to shift, as Quenneville plugged the hole in the lineup. Patrick Kane played a whopping 18:40 in the first two periods alone, double-shifting frequently.
It’s a tricky rotation to pull off. If van Riemsdyk is OK and the Hawks carry eight healthy defensemen, it’s going to pose a dilemma for Quenneville. Even discounting Michal Rozsival, who has yet to play this season, one NHL-ready, everyday defenseman is going to have to sit each game. It’s a good problem to have, of course.
“Competition usually brings out the best in us,” van Riemsdyk. “Every practice, every day, going out there against some of the best guys and competing in that way will do nothing but make you better.”
Artem Anisimov spent three seasons with the Blue Jackets before being traded to Chicago in the Brandon Saad deal following the 2014-15 season. Friday night was his first game back at Nationwide Arena; he missed the season finale last year after being injured two games earlier.
“I already experienced this when I was first traded to Columbus [by the Rangers] and I arrived at Madison Square Garden,” Anisimov said. “But this feeling, it’s different. I don’t know how to describe this feeling, but it feels weird coming back.”
Columbus coach John Tortorella was Anisimov’s coach in New York, when Anisimov first broke into the NHL.
“He’s probably one of the smartest players I’ve coached,” Tortorella said. “There’s no maintenance to him I love him. … He gets it.”
Marian Hossa (lower-body injury) didn’t make the trip to Columbus, so Saad didn’t get to congratulate him in person for scoring his 500th goal. But Saad did send his old linemate a text after Tuesday’s game.
“He’s a special player,” Saad said. “It’s a big [moment] for him. I’m sure he’s happy. Everyone who plays with him or watches hi knows how good he is.”
Friday’s game was the third time Saad has faced his old teammates. He had a goal and an assist in the season finale at Nationwide Arena last April.
“It’s starting to get normal,” he said. “It’s about our club in here, and we’re playing a good hockey team. Chicago, it’s always fun playing them.”