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Blackhawks set to scratch Campbell as Quenneville 'tinkers' with lineup

Chicago’s defensive struggles have coach Joel Quenneville fiddling with his defensive pairs, and that could lead to an unexpected scratch of veteran rearguard Brian Campbell, who took a cut rate to return to the Blackhawks.

Brian Campbell took a hometown discount to sign with the Chicago Blackhawks, but he probably didn’t foresee his return to the Windy City coming along with some unexpected nights off. However, that may be the case come Friday.

According the Chicago Sun-Times’ Brian Hedger, Campbell skated alongside veteran Michal Rozsival in practice and it appears the 37-year-old blueliner will be watching the Blackhawks’ game against the Columbus Blue Jackets from the sideline. In his place, it sounds as though Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville is set to go with the young duo of Gustav Forsling and Trevor van Riemsdyk on the backend, with his two most veteran rearguards sitting out.

It’s a rather unexpected removal from the lineup for Campbell considering he was a top-pairing defenseman on a Florida Panthers team that made the post-season in 2015-16, but that he has been skating third-pairing minutes with Forsling gives Quenneville the easy option of switching out one of his bottom-pairing guys in order to get one of the scratched blueliners some minutes.

“We don’t want the same two guys sitting out all the time,” Quenneville said, according to Hedger. “Sometimes you don’t want to tinker with a winning lineup, and sometimes…you’ve got to get them in there to play. That’s what we’re visiting.”

That could very well be all there is to it, too, but it’s worth noting that Chicago does actually need to find some combinations that work on the back end, because the Blackhawks continue to struggle mightily defensively through four games. In fact, despite Chicago being lauded for their puck possession ability over the past few seasons, the early season matchups have indicated that this could be a season in which the Blackhawks struggle at dominating the possession game. 

Through the first four games of the campaign, Chicago has a sub-50 percent Corsi for percentage and the only team with a worse shots-for percentage is the Montreal Canadiens. Only four teams — the Ottawa Senators, Edmonton Oilers, Pittsburgh Penguins and Detroit Red Wings — have allowed more shots against in the early season, and that’s rather unlike the highly skilled Blackhawks teams that were perennial Cup contenders.

However, that does make the decision to take Campbell out of the lineup somewhat confounding. Over the past several seasons, Campbell has been a positive possession player and one of the stronger puck-moving defensemen in the league, despite his age. His ability to carry the puck out of danger hasn’t left him, either. That said, he’s been a sub-50 percent possession player through the start of the campaign.

If Campbell is indeed out of the lineup Friday, it’s hard to imagine any scenario in which he’s watching for longer than a game or two, and even a second outing on the sideline would be unexpected.

In four games this season, Campbell is averaging little more than 17 minutes and has one assist.

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