They say behind every great offense is a defense that it just as strong.
The Blackhawks are showing that to be true.
The Hawks lead the NHL with 165 goals thanks to a defense that knows how to get the puck to its fleet of high-scoring forwards. Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Johnny Oduya and Nick Leddy all are in the midst of big seasons.
Keith leads all defensemen in scoring with 42 points, and his 39 assists were second in the league going into the weekend. Seabrook has 26 assists after he had 20 points in 47 games all of last season. Hjalmarsson is on pace for career highs in goals and assists, while Leddy and Oduya have had their big moments over the first half of the season.
"I love our defense," winger Patrick Sharp said. "They've been huge for us the past two seasons. They all skate well. They all move the puck, and with the forwards that we have in our locker room, we like to get it with speed and they do a good job of getting it to us.
"Our defense has been the key to our team this year."
Sharp personally has benefited from the play of the defense. He has a team-high 25 goals, with many coming on nifty setups from defensemen.
In Friday's 5-3 win at New Jersey in which Sharp got his second hat trick in five games, he got a pinpoint pass from Seabrook through two Devils on one of the goals, then was sprung by Keith for a breakaway on his third score.
"I think as a defense corps you know that it's important that we help control the offensive goal, not just necessarily scoring points but just being in on the attack and being an extra option that might create some space for our forwards," Keith said.
Keith is one of the leading contenders for the Norris Trophy after he took home the award for being the league's top defenseman in 2010. The 30-year-old Keith has led the team in ice time every season since he made his debut in 2005 playing mostly with Seabrook.
"The two of them have been together basically since they broke into the league," said Hawks coach Joel Quenneville. "That's been a big part of our team. When you think about all the shifts they've played together, there's a lot of familiarity with one another and I think they complement each other for the right reasons."
That familiarity is a common theme when it comes to the Hawks' defense. Swedes Hjalmarsson and Oduya have played together for more than two seasons ever since Oduya was acquired from Winnipeg.
"You're with a group or a linemate or a defense partner for a certain amount of time, you develop that chemistry on the ice and even off the ice," Keith said. "You become more familiar with one another and closer. I just think it helps the overall game on the ice knowing what guys tend to do out on the ice and what they want to do."
Quenneville, a former defenseman, knows he is lucky to have what he does with Keith and Seabrook.
"With Duncs and Seabs on the back end, they move it to those guys quickly or activate off the point," Quenneville said. "Our top guys this year have been real good. They've led the charge this year and put us in the right spot a lot of nights."
•Follow Tim's hockey reports on Twitter @TimSassone and check out his Between the Circles blog at dailyherald.com.