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.