The minutes are there as usual. So is the dependability during those minutes, regardless of how high they get. The point totals haven’t been bad, either.
In short, Duncan Keith is pretty much back to the player he was before he had right knee surgery in October. Not that he’s resting on what he’s done since returning.
“Well, I’m never really satisfied in what I’ve done,” Keith said. “But in my game, I’m doing everything I can to complement the team and that’s playing good defensively and breaking up plays and getting the puck into forwards hands as quickly as I can.”
Keith has been in typical form in the 26 games he’s played since having surgery to repair a partially torn meniscus. His minutes are once again anywhere from 24-29 a game and he’s recorded seven goals and 15 assists. Keith was on a four-game point streak (two goals, four assists) before he was held off the score sheet in the Blackhawks’ 3-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“I think he’s played a lot better here as we’ve progressed, coming out of Christmas and going on from there,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “He seems to be involved with our attack offensively, off the point, he scored a big goal for us the other night at home (Sunday vs. Ottawa). It’s not just the offense but important minutes in all situations. He’s one of those defensemen who makes a big impact on our team and you can see more predictability in our team game since he’s been back.”
We don’t have to tell you how Keith is such a big part in everything the Blackhawks do. The Blackhawks did OK in Keith’s absence – 5-4-1 – but it was an obvious boon getting him back. Keith’s happy with how his game’s been since his return but would like to keep going off his current levels.
“I’ve felt a lot better since I came back from the surgery as opposed to the first six games, when I wasn’t feeling that good,” Keith said. “I just keep trying to trend upward the second half until the playoffs hit. You want to be going full steam once the playoffs come.”
Keith had a few different defensive partners this season; the Blackhawks tinkered quite a bit there, thanks to both offseason and in-season personnel changes. But his most recent pairing with Niklas Hjalmarsson has worked well. The two complement each other with their differences – Hjalmarsson the stay-at-home guy, much like Keith’s former longtime defensive partner Brent Seabrook. Keith said Hjalmarsson’s play makes him feel more secure.
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“Hammer’s a very steady, smart defensive defenseman. I know he thinks very defensively and for me, I like that. I know he’ll have my back if I’m up there,” Keith said. “I don’t want to get caught but if it does happen and I make a mistake, I know he’ll back me up; and Corey [Crawford], too. It works out pretty good.”
Keith will not be going to this season’s All-Star Game in Nashville. Maybe that month he was sidelined was costly but with a new format and voting process changes, he may not have made it regardless. Keith sounded a little disappointed about not making it. At the same time, the defenseman coming up on 800 career regular-season games – No. 800 would be Sunday vs. the Colorado Avalanche – recognizes the opportunity to rest. After all, the Blackhawks usually need him and his minutes that much more during the postseason.
“As a competitive player, you always want to be recognized for those type of things but for some reason it doesn’t seem to go like that unless I get voted in. I think there are a lot of different situations, scenarios. There are a lot of different players you can make an argument for,” Keith said. “But at the end of the day I’m excited to be using that time to my advantage and getting some rest. Maybe trying to find somewhere warm where you get some sunshine, and use that to heal up a little bit.”