Joel Quenneville insinuated as much during his morning press briefing ahead of Game 6 (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA) when asked about the battle between the two players.
“Your top guys, some nights [they’re] not producing at their regular rate” the Blackhawks coach said. “Sometimes it’s the matchup that can have something to say with that. We say you still have to absorb an assignment that is definitely consuming for the opponent. I think that’s one of the reasons why [Hedman isn’t] out there a lot. But we’ll see how that plays out.”
It’s a provocative take in light of the debate over Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper’s conservative use of Hedman, who seems underutilized compared to Chicago workhorse Duncan Keith.
Hedman, who has asserted himself as an all-world talent with his performance in these playoffs, is averaging just under 26 minutes through the first five games of the final. He skated only 23:38 in Game 5, though, his lightest assignment yet against the Hawks. Keith, meanwhile played 29:23 in that 2–1 Chicago victory and is skating nearly 30 minutes a night in the series.
Given Hedman’s impact to this point—he’s practically toyed with Kane, using his long reach and excellent positioning to keep the crafty winger out of the dangerous areas—it’s hard to understand why his role was reduced as the series entered must-win territory. But if the challenge of containing Kane is wearing Hedman down and forcing Cooper to reduce his workload, then Kane is having a bigger impact on the series than the score sheet would suggest.
Will Cooper ask Hedman to take on a heavier load on Monday night? Or has the defenseman hit the wall? That’ll be one of the storylines to watch as Game 6 unfolds.