Cubs

Blackhawks 'D' will adjust without Keith

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Blackhawks 'D' will adjust without Keith

The NHL has spoken and Duncan Keith has accepted his punishment: the Blackhawks defenseman will sit for the next five games for his elbow to Daniel Sedins jaw, rejoining the team for their final two regular-season games in Minnesota and Detroit.

But between now and then the Blackhawks have to press on without him. And much like the forwards had to adjust and take on responsibility in Jonathan Toews absence, the defensemen have to do the same during Keiths suspension. It will start Sunday night when the Blackhawks host the Nashville Predators.

Keith said he accepts the NHLs punishment and respects the job they do he didnt want to elaborate on some topics, including the talk he had with Brendan Shanahan or Sedins hit on him earlier in Wednesdays game. So while his teammates play on, Keith will try to take advantage of this down time as best he can.

Im going to get as much rest as I can, eat properly, get lots of sleep and be working out with Paul (Goodman, the Blackhawks strength and conditioning coach), Keith said. I want to keep sharp, stay in game shape, and Ill do that. I respect (the decision), Ill serve the five games and look forward to getting back.

Meanwhile, the Blackhawks will adjust. Niklas Hjalmarsson will pair with Brent Seabrook while Sean ODonnell will return to the lineup and team with rookie Dylan Olsen. Nick Leddy and Johnny Oduya, who have formed a good pair since Oduya was acquired at the trade deadline, will stay together.

For Hjalmarsson, a chance to go against opponents top players is enticing.

Its a great challenge. I did it at the beginning of the season and I enjoy doing it, he said. Every nights a big challenge playing against the opponents top line, I love that.

Still, he knows playing more minutes will be an adjustment. Hjalmarsson played more than 20 minutes on Wednesday, but it was the first time hes played that much in a game since early February, before he suffered his concussion.

I havent been playing that much lately and Ive been gone for a while, he said. Itll be a real good test for me to see how I can hold up.

Keith has had his good and bad games this season. But one thing is certain: he can, and has, played a lot of minutes; and the remaining Blackhawks defensemen will have to pick those up.

Whether its more responsibility as far as quality of ice or more ice, everyone has to absorb something there, coach Joel Quenneville said. Nobodys being asked to play differently than they normally play. Hammer and Seabrook, theyve played together in the past and we have some familiarity there. We can make adjustments in games but were comfortable going in that it should work.

Is Joe Maddon covering for Wade Davis? Where do Cubs go from here?

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USA TODAY

Is Joe Maddon covering for Wade Davis? Where do Cubs go from here?

Is Cubs manager Joe Maddon taking the heat and covering for Wade Davis while the All-Star closer deals with atypical soreness in his right arm?

“No, no,” Maddon said Tuesday when asked if Davis felt anything unusual that lingered into the National League Championship Series after last week’s all-out effort eliminated the Washington Nationals from the divisional round.

The Los Angeles Dodgers took a 2-0 lead in this best-of-seven bullpen battle without Davis throwing a single pitch, the backlash from Cubs fans, Twitter and the national media again putting Maddon on the defensive, the year after he got second-guessed for pushing Aroldis Chapman so hard during the World Series.

This NLCS truly is a bizarro world, with Maddon comparing the Buster Posey Rule to the Chicago soda tax, getting so little benefit of the doubt – the Cubs really did beat the Cleveland Indians in Game 7 – and working the baseball term “dry-hump” into one answer during Monday’s Wrigley Field press conference.

Maddon said he would have to check first with Davis – who would have almost five full days in between relief appearances – if the Cubs need a four- or five-out save in Game 3.

“Nevertheless, I always check,” Maddon said. “I can’t just assume that.”

Maddon’s Game 2 calculus on Sunday night at Dodger Stadium – sticking with lefty reliever Brian Duensing in a 1-1 game to start the ninth inning and then bringing in John Lackey to serve up the walk-off, three-run homer to Justin Turner – made you wonder if Davis was still dragging after ending Washington’s season and traveling on the overnight cross-country flight that got diverted to New Mexico for about five hours when Jose Quintana’s wife experienced a panic attack.

“I think he just got mentally exhausted,” Maddon said. “Physically, 44 pitches, he hasn’t done that in a while. But also the seven outs and what it meant and the plane ride itself, sitting on the tarmac, there was a lot of non-rest going on right there, so it was harder to recover.

“So, no, he was fine for the last game, but we set up the parameters before the game.”

Maddon is sticking with his story, that he would only deploy Davis in a save situation and not use him for one out against Turner (1.115 career postseason OPS) or have him totally warm up without the guarantee of getting him into the game.

“To put Wade in that position would be wrong on my part,” Maddon said. “We had already talked about the circumstances, so my loyalty there lies with Wade, or my decision-making lies with Wade, nobody else.

“That was a heavy day for him (in Washington). Going into the last game in L.A., like I talked about, we talked about one inning only, and not to get up and not put him in the game.

“If you get him up and sit him down, then you have no idea what it’s going to look like. My responsibility is to him, also, and to the players, so I told him that before the game, so I had to stick with our decision.”

Before finalizing the Jorge Soler trade at the winter meetings, the Kansas City Royals took the unusual step of allowing the Cubs to meet with Davis at his home in New York’s Hudson Valley and go through a physical exam. The Cubs wanted reassurances after Davis spent parts of last season on the disabled list with a forearm strain and a flexor strain.

The Cubs wondered if “dry-humping” had contributed to those injuries, and tried to stay conservative with Davis during his free-agent year, watching him convert his first 32 save chances and using him for three-plus outs only three times during the regular season, all in mid-to-late September.

“If you look at the numbers this year, I thought going into the playoffs his usage has been really good,” Maddon said. “Minimal, in a sense. We didn’t get him up hardly at all where we didn’t utilize him.

“He just wasn’t set up for it the other day. So honestly, I think he’s in really good shape right now, actually. I don’t think he could have gone those seven outs the other day if he had been overly dried up during the course of the season. He felt good. But that was above and beyond, and that wasn’t part of the game plan the other night.”

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Ben Zobrist shares his leadoff approach

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SportsTalk Live Podcast: Ben Zobrist shares his leadoff approach

Sports Talk Live is on location at the Brickhouse Tavern at Wrigley Field to get you set for Game 3 of the NLCS. David Haugh (Chicago Tribune), Jesse Rogers (ESPNChicago.com) and Bob Nightengale (USA Today) join Kap on the panel. 

Plus, Ben Zobrist and Curtis Granderson drop by to talk about the big matchup.

Listen to the full SportsTalk Live Podcast right here: