Blackhawks need rest of defense to step up in Connor Murphy’s absence
With Murphy out at least 11 games, Slater Koekkoek will get more opportunities, and Dennis Gilbert should see an extended NHL stay.
Defenseman Slater Koekkoek has grown accustomed to being a healthy scratch. He was regularly the odd man out with the Lightning, and he has been scratched in five of the Blackhawks’ first seven games this season.
But now that defenseman Connor Murphy will be out at least 24 days with a reaggravated groin injury, Koekkoek likely will be called on Thursday against the Flyers.
‘‘It’s a mental game,’’ Koekkoek said Wednesday. ‘‘Some guys get too low when they’re out of the lineup, or some guys don’t care. It’s about keeping that balance of being ready whenever you get the chance and keeping a positive mindset.’’
Koekkoek hasn’t played since the first two games, when the Hawks were waiting for defenseman Calvin de Haan to return to full health. Now de Haan is healthy — and coming off a season-high 21:05 of ice time Tuesday against the Golden Knights — and Murphy is out.
‘‘[Koekkoek] plays a simple game, not afraid to get into battles and be physical,’’ Hawks coach Jeremy Colliton said. ‘‘He’s a good skater, tight gap. All the things we ask of everyone, he’s capable of doing that, too, and I think he will.’’
The Hawks put Murphy on long-term injured reserve, which means he won’t be eligible to be reinstated to the roster until Nov. 16. By that point, the Hawks will have played 11 more games than they have now.
‘‘[Murphy has] been really good for us,’’ defenseman Olli Maatta said. ‘‘But, obviously, we have a good ‘D’ here. Everybody’s just got to step up, [especially] whoever runs with those extra minutes. That’s the way it is.’’
The Hawks also recalled Dennis Gilbert from Rockford of the American Hockey League, where he had played three games since appearing in the Hawks’ season opener in Prague. Gilbert, 22, impressed in training camp and has earned an extended stay at the NHL level.
The bigger issues will be whom to slot alongside Duncan Keith on the top defensive pairing and how to address having only one healthy right-handed defenseman (Brent Seabrook) at the moment.
De Haan played more with Keith in the third period Tuesday than anyone else and is the leading candidate to play alongside him while Murphy is out because of his defensive reliability and the Hawks’ reluctance to split up the Maatta-Seabrook duo.
If de Haan moves up, either he or Keith will need to switch to the right side, joining Seabrook and Erik Gustafsson (who prefers the right). Colliton said it might be a trial-by-fire experience for the unlucky guy.
‘‘The reads can be a little different, your puck plays are a little different, you’ve got a different look,’’ Colliton said. ‘‘The more you’re in those situations, the more comfortable you feel.’’
Maatta said the defense is ‘‘finally starting to get some chemistry,’’ and it has shown on the ice. The Knights were credited with only five high-danger scoring chances Tuesday, tied for the fewest the Hawks have allowed in the last three seasons.
Koekkoek said he hopes his insertion won’t disrupt that momentum.
‘‘It’s about doing something that first shift, whether you’re talking in your head: ‘All right, here we go, Slater. Get your feet going,’ ’’ he said. ‘‘It’s a little bit of talk, a little bit of physicality. Whatever it takes.’’