Three Blackhawks defensemen competing for one spot
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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Erik Gustafsson has lost his confidence. Christian Ehrhoff is looking for an opportunity. Viktor Svedberg is just happy to be here.
Will the Blackhawks’ sixth defensemen please stand up?
“I want everybody to seize the opportunity,” Joel Quenneville said.
No one has so far. Gustafsson, a revelation when he was first called up in late October, was a healthy scratch for the second straight game Sunday night in Vancouver, and for two months now hasn’t looked like the aggressive puck-mover he was in the fall. Ehrhoff, a castoff from Los Angeles, finally got back in the lineup Sunday night after four straight healthy scratches, his defensive shortcomings overshadowing his offensive talent. And Svedberg, who returned to the lineup Saturday in Calgary and was in again on Sunday, is a long shot (with a long reach).
All three want to be the guy. But none of them has proven worthy yet.
“Of course, you want to play all the games, and of course, when it comes to the playoffs, that’s when the fun starts,” Gustafsson said. “You just want to play. But I have not shown the coaches that I can play as well as when I first came up here. I lost my game a little bit and don’t join the rush enough and struggle with some passes and stuff like that. I can’t think about me and Ehrhoff or whatever ‘D’ I’m competing with. I just have to focus on myself and play hockey.”
For Ehrhoff, the trade to Chicago was a godsend, as the Hawks’ quick transition game suits his game perfectly. And he was impressive on the offensive end in his first three appearances, before fading a bit in his last two. But Quenneville wants to see a stronger defensive game out of Ehrhoff, who admits to struggling with the transition a bit.
“Offensively, there are a lot of openings for the ‘D’ to join the rush, and my skating game kind of complements that,” he said. “Defensively. it’s still an adjustment, the way we play. But I’ve talked to a bunch of the other defensemen, and I think as we move along further here, I get a better picture and hopefully it comes more naturally.”
The hardest part for the rotating defensemen is keeping things simple when you do get your chance to play, and not pressing, knowing that those opportunities can be few and far between.
“It’s tougher on you mentally,” Ehrhoff said. “You’ve got to remind yourself just to stay positive, think positive and keep the game simple and to just play with high energy.”
Svedberg has been in Rockford or most of the past four months, but has kept close tabs on the team as he awaited another opportunity. Like Gustafsson and Ehrhoff, he wants to be the guy who plays every day in the playoffs. But like Gustafsson and Ehrhoff, he needs to prove he can be that guy. And time’s running out.
“I’m just happy to be here, obviously, and I’m trying to focus on my game,” Svedberg said. “I can’t worry too much about the competition. We’re all trying to do our best, and whenever you get your chance, you try to make the most of it.”