The Blackhawks were near the bottom of the NHL in man-games lost last season, but the injury bug is starting to hit them all at once this season and it's coming at an inopportune time.
With Drake Caggiula and Dylan Strome both in concussion protocol and Connor Murphy recently back from a groin injury, Duncan Keith is the latest victim to be sidelined. And his presence will certainly be missed on the back end.
The two-time Norris Trophy winner left Friday's 5-2 loss to the Colorado Avalanche with a groin injury and did not return. He logged 9:30 of ice time before exiting in the second period, with his final shift coming at the 9:45 mark after the Avalanche scored their fourth goal.
It sounds like it's an injury Keith has been dealing with for some time, which head coach Jeremy Colliton indicated has been a reason for Keith's recent maintenance days from practice.
"Obviously we try to take care of it and at some point he just felt he couldn't play," Colliton said. "He's been playing a lot and it's a heavy schedule, so we've been trying to give him off days and optionals and what not. I'm not sure how serious it is... I'm not even sure exactly what the end diagnosis is going to be."
All the Blackhawks know right now is Keith will not travel to Colorado for the second of a home-and-home series against the Avalanche on Saturday, meaning the 36-year-old blue-liner will miss his first game since April 6, 2017, ending a 189-game Iron Man streak.
Since Keith entered the NHL during the 2005-06 season, the Blackhawks have played in 1,139 regular-season games. Keith has missed only 38 of those: 17 from injuries, 10 from suspensions, seven from rest and three from illness.
It's going to be an unusual feeling for the Blackhawks not to have Keith in the lineup on Saturday, and they're hoping his absence won't be any longer than that.
"It's one of those things you're so used to having him on the back end doing what he does, it's almost like you take it for granted," Jonathan Toews said. "A lot of minutes he plays, what he does offensively and defensively, just how he makes the game easier on his own partner and everyone around him too. Hopefully he'll be back soon. Not used to being out there without a guy like him and definitely hurts a lot."
With Keith being ruled out, the Blackhawks recalled defenseman Ian McCoshen from the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League and re-assigned Matthew Highmore. But filling Keith's role will require an all-hands-on-deck approach.
"It's opportunity for guys to show they can do more for us," Colliton said. "Every team in the league goes through it and we're going to go through it and we've got to find a way to get points anyway."
The Blackhawks don't need to look very far for inspiration on how to overcome key injuries. The Avalanche rolled past the Blackhawks on Friday and did so without several crucial pieces to their puzzle, including the team's third-leading scorer Andre Burakovsky, bottom-six winger Matt Calvert, top pairing defenseman Erik Johnson, captain Gabriel Landeskog, two-time 80-point-getter Mikko Rantanen and versatile forward Colin Wilson.
The Blackhawks' depth is about to be tested, and so is their character, especially if Keith is out for an extended period. Good teams find a way to push through. Can the Blackhawks prove to be one of them?
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