On a team filled with superstars, it’s hard to make a name for yourself as a young defenseman in the NHL. This hasn’t been the case for Nick Leddy, who seems to enjoy flying under the radar on a Chicago Blackhawks team full of talent. Originally drafted by the Minnesota Wild 16th overall in 2009, Leddy’s contract rights were traded to Chicago in exchange for defenseman Cam Barker in 2010. Since that trade, Barker has played ninety one games for 3 different NHL teams before leaving North America for the KHL this year. Leddy, on the other hand, has played 258 games in the NHL, all with the Blackhawks, including 50 playoff games and a Stanley Cup ring in 2013. This year, the Blackhawks are in the Western Conference Finals against the L.A. Kings as they try to win their 2nd straight championship.
Going into Game 4 on Monday night at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, Nick Leddy had had a point in all 3 games in the Conference Finals. Leddy has gotten better with every playoff game he’s played this year, but his solid play wasn’t enough for Chicago to win Games 2 & 3 after beating the Kings in Game 1. Leddy’s 1st shift of the game came 1:57 into the 1st period, when he went out with his defense partner Michal Rozsival as the duo made up Chicago’s 3rd defense pairing. The Hawks were able to keep the puck in L.A.’s zone for the 1st half of Leddy’s 1st shift, until Mike Richards found his way over Chicago’s blueline, forcing Leddy to make a good positional play to force Richards wide around the net. A few minutes later, the Blackhawks found themselves on a powerplay after Anze Kopitar was called for tripping Niklas Hjalmarsson. Leddy came out with the team’s 2nd powerplay unit for the last minute of the powerplay, and he would’ve had a good scoring chance in the dying seconds of the man-advantage when he tried to go end-to-end, but the play was offside. At 8:00, both teams had a 4-on-4 for 1 minute, but Hawks head coach Joel Quenneville didn’t put Leddy out on the ice. I disagree with this move by Quenneville, as Leddy’s exceptional speed would fit perfectly into 4-on-4 situation where there’s lots of open room on the ice. A few seconds after the 4-on-4 ended, L.A. had a brief powerplay, which Jake Muzzin was able to capitalize on at 9:00 when he scored on Corey Crawford, who was being screened by Jeff Carter. Immediately after L.A.’s goal, Quenneville put Leddy and Rozsival on the ice, which is something he did all night long after the Kings scored. At 11:13, Anze Kopitar threw the puck towards the Blackhawks net, and Marian Gaborik was there to deflect the puck in for his 10th goal of the playoffs, which is leading the league. After the 2-0 goal by Gaborik, Joel Quenneville called a timeout during which he berated his team for allowing 2 goals on 2 shots in 2:13. Leddy was on the ice once more after Gaborik’s goal. Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith, Chicago’s dop defense tandem, were on the ice for both of the Kings goals, and Quenneville decided to bench them for the next 4 defensive shifts, which were played by Oduya, Hjalmarsson, Leddy, and Rozsival. Despite being small in stature at 6’0″, 190 LBS, Leddy wasn’t afraid to go into the corners in his own end of the ice and he never shied away from contact with the Kings big-bodied forwards. At 15:56, Dustin Brown scored on L.A.’s 2nd powerplay of the game, and Leddy was once again out for the faceoff at center ice. He played 7:38 in the 1st period, which was more than any other defenseman on the Blackhawks.
The Hawks were down 3-0 to start the 2nd period, after Corey Crawford made only 5 saves on L.A.’s first 8 shots. After Seabrook and Keith started the period, Quenneville put Leddy and Rozsival out on the ice, skipping the 2nd pairing of Oduya and Hjalmarsson in favor of getting more offense out on the ice. Leddy was on the ice for 12.9% of Chicago’s zone starts, and the majority of those starts came in L.A.’s end of the ice, as Quenneville trusted his other defenseman more than he truested Leddy to play in their own end. At 12:43, Drew Doughty scored the Kings’ 4th goal of the game. For the 1st time all night, Leddy didn’t play immediately following the goal scored against Chicago. All 4 goals scored by the Kings during Game 4 were due to traffic in front of Corey Crawford, with the Kings sending big-bodies in front of the Hawks net, and Chicago’s defensemen being unable to clear them out of the crease area. At 14:03, Leddy was on the ice for Chicago’s 1st goal of the game, when Brandon Saad beat Jonathan Quick on a backhanded shot. A few minutes later, at 16:30, Nick Leddy made a good play to glove the puck down at the point to keep it in L.A.’s zone, and then he carried the puck in deep before dishing it to the front the the Kings net, where an L.A. defender was able to get his stick on it and get it away from a dangerous scoring area before any Blackhawks could find the puck. Once again, Leddy was not put out for the 2nd 4-on-4 of the game, when Andrew Shaw and Drew Doughty got called for offsetting minors. He played 6:57 in the 2nd, bringing his totals on the night up to 14:35, more than any other Chicago skater.
Despite leading the team in TOI, Nick Leddy managed to be on the ice for Chicago’s only goal, while not being on for any of the 4 goals scored against his team. 0:40 into the 3rd period, my prayers were finally answered when Leddy was put on the ice for the final 0:50 of the Shaw/Doughty 4-0n-4, which had carried over from the 2nd,but he was taken off of the ice right after both teams got their skaters back. Leddy won nearly every footrace he was involved in, which is how he beat Justin Williams to the hashmarks to get an icing against the Kings at 8:00. Leddy was double-shifted after the icing to give him an offensive zone start. eighty nine seconds later, at 9:29, Bryan Bickel beat Jonathan Quick, who was sprawled out of position, cutting the Kings lead in half at 4-2. With less than 10:00 to go in the 3rd, and still down by 2 goals, Joel Quenneville began shortening his bench to 4 defenseman. Keith and Seabrook played the majority of the 2nd half of the period, but he gave Leddy and Rozsival 6 more shifts, while only playing the defensively-minded duo of Oduya and Hjalmarsson for 3 more shifts. Crawford was pulled from the Hawks net with 3:00 to go, but they couldn’t get it done with the extra skater, and Tanner Pearson scored L.A.’s 5th and final goal at 18:58 while Leddy was on the ice. He played 6:39 in the 3rd period, and 21:14 in the game, which was second on his team in TOI, trailing Duncan Keith, who play 22:20, by 1:06.
Black and Silver confetti rained down from the rafters over the Staples Center crowd to mark a victory for the Kings, who now lead the series 3-1, going back to Chicago. The Blackhawks are in a hole, but they did manage to climb back from a 3-1 deficit in last year’s playoffs against a determined Detroit Red Wings team. Nick Leddy has gotten better with every game he’s played, and will play a huge for for Chi-Town if the Hawks hope to make a comeback. Game 5 in Chicago will be at 8:00 PM EST, and can be viewed on CBC, RDS,and NBCSN.