It would be hard for a defenceman to play less than Nick Leddy did in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup final.
Playing just 2:37, Leddy was barely a factor in a victory that got the Chicago Blackhawks even with the Boston Bruins in the best-of-seven series. How much of an impact he’ll have in Game 5 and beyond remains to be seen, but it appears that he’ll get more of an opportunity.
“I think we expect Nick to get back to playing more,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “Every game is different, but he brings a nice guy from our back end that can move the puck and defend and do what we need him to do to get involved in the attack, as well, offensively. We’ll look forward to getting him more involved.”
The Blackhawks need Leddy to be reliable, considering that each of Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Johnny Oduya and Michal Rozsival played over 25 minutes in Game 5. Given the depth of Boston’s blue-line — not even mentioning Wade Redden, Dougie Hamilton and Matt Bartkowski being able to step in at any point — Chicago cannot tax its defencemen this much.
Quenneville said Keith, Seabrook, Hjalmarsson, Oduya and Rozsival “got the job done” in Game 4, but the Blackhawks know all about how heavy work loads can drain a team. They won the 2010 Cup in large part because the Philadelphia Flyers leaned heavily on Chris Pronger, Kimmo Timonen, Braydon Coburn and Matt Carle.
Not wanting their defencemen to be worn down, the Blackhawks are counting on Leddy to bounce back and are confident he will.
“He’s got such a great talent that anything can happen when he’s out there on the ice,” Seabrook said. “He’s got great legs, he can shoot the puck real well, he’s got a good hockey sense. I think for Nick, just in talking with him and a few of the boys, just told him to keep his head up and keep going, and I think that’s the biggest thing for Leddy.”
The 22-year-old tried to brush off concerns about his drop-off in play that led to being benched for most of Game 4. Not making as many smart decisions with the puck contributed to his minutes being reduced, but Leddy said that didn’t bother him.
Having an impressive regular season with 18 points, a plus-15 rating and just 10 penalty minutes should help him move forward.
“If I’m staying focused and everything, the confidence should be there, and that’s huge,” he said.
It’s also nice for Leddy to have players around him who have gone through similar growing pains. Even captain Jonathan Toews can empathize.
“It’s not easy to keep your confidence and then go out there and be prepared for the next shift or to go and do your job when maybe you haven’t been on the ice for quite a while,” Toews said. “There’s some guys that maybe get their minutes or their opportunities reduced here and there, guys like (Viktor Stalberg) and Ledds. You try to talk to those guys just to stay with it because you know when they’re out there, they can really make a difference for us.”
Where Leddy makes a difference is by giving the Blackhawks some “balance” on defence, Quenneville said. The 2009 first-round pick of the Minnesota Wild got to the NHL because of his puck-moving ability, and a few tough outings doesn’t mean that skill suddenly disappeared.
“Nick has got some nice assets, and I think quickness, getting up in the attack and turning pucks from defence to offence right away is one of his strengths,” Quenneville said. “In the puck area [he makes] sure we’re killing plays and defending quickly in the puck area and eliminating players with a puck possession game by them in their zone.”
Leddy can still do that, assuming he gets more than a couple of minutes to prove it.
“He’s going to create opportunities. He’s just got to keep his head up,” forward Andrew Shaw said. “It’s a long battle to the Cup, and we’ve all got to make sacrifices if we want to win. ... They gave him the opportunity and he’s been playing great. He’s just got to keep his head up and keep looking forward and keep pushing for that Cup.”