NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Johnny Oduya was brought in at the trade deadline to bolster the Blackhawks’ blue line heading into the playoffs. But after three games in which he often has been unable to keep up with the Predators’ speed, the veteran defenseman might be a healthy scratch for Game 4.
During practice Wednesday, Michal Kempny was paired with Brent Seabrook, while Oduya was on the outside of the top six, skating with Gustav Forsling. Coach Joel Quenneville declined to say for sure whether Kempny was in and Oduya was out, but he said, “it’s an option.”
The more offensive-minded Kempny has played in only four games since Oduya entered the lineup March 9. But fellow defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson felt the 26-year-old Czech import was up to the challenge.
“He is having a great season for it being his first season over here,” Hjalmarsson said. “[Kempny and Seabrook] were playing well when they were playing together during the regular season.”
With the offense sputtering, Quenneville has been frequently double-shifting Patrick Kane on the fourth line in Jordin Tootoo’s spot. It’s one of Quenneville’s most commonly used strategies when the Hawks are chasing a lead. Kane played 21:23 per game during the regular season, second only to Buffalo’s Ryan O’Reilly among forwards.
“Having him out there is a great asset for us, and I look at Kaner when he comes to the bench, I’m thinking if he goes every other shift, he’s fine,” Quenne-ville said. “A lot of times when I think he might be not ready to go, I’ll ask him. [There have been] maybe one or two [times] when he couldn’t do it. That’s almost 99.5 [percent] that he’s going.”
It’s not just Kane’s fitness level that allows him to play so much. It’s his veteran savvy — like a workhorse defenseman, he knows how to conserve his energy.
“He’s so smart,” Quenneville said. “He knows how to manage that as good as anybody.”
Pekka Rinne was chatting with Predators goalie coach Ben Vanderklok before Game 3 when he brought up a fluky goal the Hawks scored against him in Game 6 in 2010. Off a faceoff win in the neutral zone, Brent Seabrook tried to send the puck deep, and Rinne went behind his net to play it. But Seabrook’s dump-in ticked off Kane’s skate and was redirected right into the empty net.
It almost happened again. Oduya’s clear in the first period of Game 3 took a funky bounce off the glass and headed straight for the net, with Rinne waiting behind to play the puck. This time, however, Rinne was able to dive into the crease and deflect the puck just wide.
“It brought back some memories,” Rinne said. “But thank God I made that save.”
Follow me on Twitter @MarkLazerus.