Reader questions on 7-defensemen strategy, the Boqvist dilemma, Kurashev and more

  • Blackhawks left wing Philipp Kurashev, here scoring on Columbus goaltender Elvis Merzlikins Jan. 31 at the United Center, has been a pleasant surprise this season.

    Blackhawks left wing Philipp Kurashev, here scoring on Columbus goaltender Elvis Merzlikins Jan. 31 at the United Center, has been a pleasant surprise this season. Associated Press

Updated 2/17/2021 6:32 AM

With the Blackhawks about one-third of the way through their 56-game season, now seems like a good time to do our first reader Q&A.

I asked for suggestions on social media, telling followers it was OK to ask some offbeat questions. There were some really good ones that will take time to compile, so look for those next month.


Q: If one of your top defensemen is out (Connor Murphy) why add an extra D-man and dress only 11 forwards? @coachgottlieb1

A: While it is rare for teams to deviate from the 12-forward, 6-defensemen lineup, coaches do employ the 11/7 strategy on occasion.

Veteran blue-liners tend to despise the latter setup, noting it's difficult to get in a rhythm when your partner is constantly changing and/or ice time is inconsistent.

Hawks coach Jeremy Colliton has gone the 11/7 route quite a bit this season, doing it twice in the recently completed four-game homestand.

Colliton, who will be without Murphy (hip) for about another week, explained his reasoning before the Hawks played at Detroit Monday.

"We just felt (Murphy) plays so many important minutes for us and it's such a big hole to fill we wanted two guys to share the load," Colliton said. "It was too much to put on one young player to take it all.

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"I understand sometimes defensemen feel it's harder to get into a rhythm. But a lot of times that's just an excuse. Every player -- the ice you get -- you've got to make the most of it.

"Across the league you've seen a lot of teams move to (seven D-men). Tampa used a lot of 11 and seven last year on their way to winning the Cup. ... It's definitely not the standard and I don't love using it every night, but it's definitely a viable option."

• • •

Q: Who sits when Adam Boqvist comes back? Who should sit? Mark Anderson, Naperville

A: If the Hawks stick with six defensemen, Lucas Carlsson is most likely to take a seat. Me? I'd sit Nikita Zadorov, who's struggled at times and could use a game or two off.

I wouldn't be surprised to see Colliton go back to 7 D-men, though.

Let's take this a step further and ask what happens when Connor Murphy returns.

Calvin de Haan hasn't been playing that well. Maybe he takes a seat for a game?


The guess is Colliton goes with a rotation that attempts to keep everyone happy while at the same time allowing the young players to grow.

It will not be an easy task.

The players vying for ice time: Duncan Keith, Ian Mitchell, Nicolas Beaudin, Carlsson, Murphy, Boqvist, Wyatt Kalynuk, Zadorov and de Haan. Keith, Mitchell, Beaudin and Murphy have been most reliable. The others can fight for remaining spots.

• • •

Q: Is Philipp Kurashev impressing more than Dominik Kubalik at the same time as last season? @stevevaneyk

A: This is a toughie, but I'd say it's pretty even.

Kubalik, who demonstrated his lethal shot last preseason, scored 4 goals in his first 16 games in a third-line role.

Kurashev is a much different player. He's a natural center and a good distributor of the puck. He's stronger defensively than Kubalik.

In the long run, the Hawks would be thrilled if Kubalik could be a 25-goal scorer and Kurashev takes on a second- or third-line center role. If Kubalik would improve his defense and be more of an individual threat at even strength he could be a star.

• • •

Q: Surprised by the team's results? @BarriosBurner

A: Stunned. Flabbergasted. Blown away. Floored. Pick any and all similar adjectives and I'm definitely surprised that the Hawks are 8-5-4.

One thing that hasn't totally shocked me is the play of Kevin Lankinen. He stood out last summer and I felt he could play at the NHL level.

Combine his play with the unselfish nature of nearly the entire roster you have a team that can overachieve.

It's a testament to Colliton and his staff. One has to think when the United Center is full again -- hopefully by next season -- the boos will have all but disappeared.

• • •

Q: After 4 consecutive OT losses the Blackhawks are undefeated in OT when I make pudding for dessert. How many OT victories before the Power of Pudding is officially a thing? @ D_Kissane

A: I'd keep the stove top warmed up. Maybe it's time to buy Kraft Heinz stock (KHC)?

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