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Columnist
Defense should worry Blackhawks
By Tim Sassone | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 9/26/2007 12:17 AM

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It's going to be difficult for the Blackhawks not to score more goals with the upgrades they've made on offense.

Keeping the puck out of the their own net looks to be a bigger concern with the season opener at Minnesota only eight days away.

It starts with Nikolai Khabibulin, who hasn't looked especially sharp in the preseason, and continues with a defense with a mostly inexperienced top four of Brent Seabrook, Duncan Keith, Jim Vandermeer and James Wisniewski.

General manager Dale Tallon has been trying to trade for a veteran defenseman for weeks, and he still might be able to pull off such a deal using his surplus of forwards and prospects as bait.

There have been whispers of Tallon inquiring about Ottawa's Wade Redden, who could be available because of his $6.5 million salary and impending free agency, but the price would be steep. You'd have to figure the Senators would want back another defenseman such as Seabrook or Keith, and maybe a pick and a prospect, or perhaps both.

Tallon might be better off keeping Seabrook and Keith and continuing his search for a top-four defenseman elsewhere.

With a difficult schedule to start the season, the defense will be put to the test immediately. After playing the opener at Minnesota, the Hawks must face Detroit (twice), San Jose, Dallas, Colorado and Toronto in six of their next seven games.

That means trying to contain the likes of elite offensive players Marian Gaborik, Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Joe Thornton, Mike Modano, Joe Sakic and Mats Sundin over the first two weeks of the season. Tough assignment.

For now, coach Denis Savard sees Seabrook and his lock-down defensive guy.

"I think he wants to be that guy," Savard said. "That's why we made all those changes over the summer, because we feel he's our guy and it's his team.

"For him, because of the ability he has and the size he has, I think he'd say it's time. It is time. It's going to become habit for him that every night because he knows he'll have a Modano or one of those guys. It creates an extra motivation for him. He has to be focused for 60 minutes when he plays against good players all the time, and he will. I believe he has that ability."

Seabrook is ready for the challenge of being the Hawks' No. 1 defenseman.

"I don't really see my role as bring any different," Seabrook said. "I'm just going to try to go out there and play my game and do the things I'm capable of doing. It's a matter of playing hard every night."

Three from the group of Andrei Zyuzin, Cam Barker, Magnus Johansson and Dustin Byfuglien likely will complete the defense. Byfuglien is out for next week or so with a pulled side muscle, so his setback create opportunities for the others.

Zyuzin has average skills, Johansson is a 34-year-old veteran without any NHL experience, Barker might not be ready and Byfuglien still makes mistakes and takes a lot of penalties.

Savard and Tallon have insisted that the defense will be fine. That might be mostly wishful thinking.