Blackhawks

In Duncan Keith's absence, 'everyone can do a little more'

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In Duncan Keith's absence, 'everyone can do a little more'

The Blackhawks went 10 games without Duncan Keith earlier this season when the defenseman underwent knee surgery.

They’ll be going without him again now. They just don’t know for how many games.

Keith, who was offered an in-person hearing, will instead have his hearing with the NHL's Department of Player Safety over the phone on Friday afternoon. Keith was given a match penalty for intent to injure for his reckless high-stick on Minnesota’s Charlie Coyle in Tuesday night’s game. Whatever Keith gets, it will mark his third NHL suspension — he was suspended five games for elbowing Daniel Sedin in March 2012 and suspended one game for high-sticking Jeff Carter in the face in June 2013.

On Thursday the Blackhawks were preparing for games without Keith, including Friday night’s outing in Winnipeg.

“No one can do the things he does, but everyone can do a little bit more. I think that’s the mindset,” Marcus Kruger said. “We all want him on the ice, but the situation is what it is. It’s up to the guys playing to fill that hole.”

[MORE BLACKHAWKS: Marcus Kruger brings balance, PK help to Blackhawks]

It’s never a good time to lose a player, especially one who does as much as Keith. But the timing right now is that much worse: The Blackhawks have struggled the last few weeks and are fighting to stay in good position in the Central Division. Keith’s poor choice could really be costly.

“We always talk about discipline, as a team we feel we’re pretty strong in that area. We deal with it the right way, and we feel going forward that we have to be smart about how we play on the ice, how we react to different situations and don’t hurt the team,” Quenneville said. “We were fortunate to come out of (that five-minute penalty kill) we outscored them in that stretch, but we missed him the whole game.”

Keith practiced on Thursday but declined to speak afterward.

“His competitiveness is what makes him a great player,” Quenneville continued on Keith. “And I just think being smart and knowing your limitations, or I guess the limit, is what we have to do.”

Keith’s absence means another defenseman gets an opportunity. On Thursday the pairings were as follows: Trevor van Riemsdyk-Niklas Hjalmarsson, Viktor Svedberg-Brent Seabrook and Erik Gustafsson-Michal Rozsival. Gustafsson was one of the Blackhawks’ call-ups when Keith was injured earlier this season.

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“He’s not the whole team, but he’s a big part of it,” Gustafsson said. “He’s one of our best defensemen and one of the best in the league. We just have to keep moving and just get on a winning track here, start winning some games in a row. We just have to go out and play hockey.”

The Blackhawks were already struggling to find answers and victories down the regular-season stretch. They were already without Corey Crawford, who still isn’t skating. Now they’ll have to make do without Keith.

“I think every year ... you’re dealing with all kinds of situations. Certain guys, are they going to be ready for the playoffs? And in the playoffs things happen,” Quenneville said. “Being adaptable as a team, a line, a group we feel we (have to) find ways, find solutions. That’s where we’re at: No matter what hand we’re dealt here, we’ll find a way to do everything we can to rectify every situation we have in front of us and be the best we can be.”

Evaluating Blackhawks options after Anton Forsberg is placed on waivers

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AP

Evaluating Blackhawks options after Anton Forsberg is placed on waivers

The Blackhawks have said all along that they don't plan on carrying three goaltenders, but wanted to do so during the three games in four days stretch just in case, with Corey Crawford coming back from a 10-month layoff because of a concussion.

After being encouraged by how Crawford has responded to his return, the Blackhawks placed goaltender Anton Forsberg on waivers Monday morning. Teams have 24 hours to put in a claim for the 25-year-old goaltender and would have to keep him on their NHL roster for 10 games and/or 30 days before he's eligible to go through the waiver process again.

His chances of getting claimed by any of the other 30 teams essentially depends on which teams believe Forsberg would be an immediate upgrade over their current backup — or starter, for that matter — or whether there's an injury to one of the team's two goaltenders that requires a placeholder, like we saw the Carolina Hurricanes do by claiming Curtis McElhinney from the Toronto Maple Leafs after Scott Darling's injury in the preseason.

If Forsberg goes unclaimed, the Blackhawks can assign him to the American Hockey League with the Rockford IceHogs. With Collin Delia and Kevin Lankinen sharing the goaltending duties in Rockford, it's possible Lankinen gets sent to the Indy Fuel in the East Coast Hockey League to get consistent starts under his belt.

A third option, one that isn't very common but we've seen in the past as recently as last October with Maple Leafs goaltender Kasimir Kaskisuo, is that Forsberg can be loaned to any AHL team while still being a part of the Blackhawks organization. This would allow the Blackhawks to keep Delia and Lankinen in Rockford while Forsberg gets his starts in the AHL, too.

Or, the Blackhawks could simply trade Forsberg to another NHL team that could stash him in the AHL, as long as he clears waivers. They did it last season with Chris DiDomenico, who cleared waivers as a member of the Ottawa Senators but was then traded to Chicago for Ville Pokka days later. Had DiDomenico been claimed by the Blackhawks, he would have had to stay on the NHL roster as noted above.

Forsberg was 10-16-4 with a 2.97 goals against average and .908 save percentage in 35 appearances last season but has not appeared in a game yet this year. He was acquired as part of the Brandon Saad package for Artemi Panarin in June 2017.

Blackhawks looking for defensive improvement from everyone, not just defensemen

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USA TODAY

Blackhawks looking for defensive improvement from everyone, not just defensemen

The Blackhawks were able to get away with their defensive lapses in the past solely because of Corey Crawford. When he went down with a concussion last December, those issues were magnified because he wasn't there to mask the flaws.

But it's reached the point where they can't rely on their goaltender to bail them out on a nightly basis, which is becoming another trend. Cam Ward allowed six goals to Tampa Bay on Sunday night, but made 49 saves — including 30 in the second period alone. He did everything he could to keep his team withing some sort of reaching distance and without his timely stops, the scoreboard could've looked much worse for the Blackhawks.

Something's got to change. 

When the Blackhawks talk about tightening things up defensively, they're not just putting it all on the defensemen. All five guys on the ice need to do their part and they're not doing it right now.

"I think we're trying to do too much and running around trying to do each other's job," Jonathan Toews said. "Sometimes we just need to simply and finish our checks and support each other."

No team has given up more even-strength high-danger chances through eight games than the Blackhawks at 110. That's 15.77 per 60 minutes. For reference, the New York Islanders finished worst in the league in that category last season and their number was at 12.96.

It didn't help that the Blackhawks spent nearly the entire second period in their own end on Sunday.

"We just couldn’t get it out of our zone, couldn’t get our stick on it, didn’t see pressure, didn’t feel pressure when we had it, were stripped," coach Joel Quenneville said. "Hence, we didn’t advance it. Kept looking like we were going up the ice and there were going to be some odd-man situations and then we’re the ones who were facing it."

That's one way to eliminate those high quality scoring chances, is getting the puck out of their own zone effectively or else it opens the door for Grade-A opportunities because of self-inflicted wounds. And it usually happens at the end of shifts when guys are tired, which often leads to goals.

"We have to learn how to play without the puck better and learn how to keep it," Quenneville said. "Whether it was our execution going up the ice, first pass poor and then we couldn’t change. A lot of things that happened yesterday were there tonight."

The Blackhawks weren't using three games in four nights as an excuse because Tampa Bay was in the same situation. It was an even playing field in that respect.

It's all about execution from everyone involved, forwards and defensemen. And the Blackhawks feel they're correctable issues.

"Of course," Toews said. "We've had some good periods this season so far. The first three, four, five games, everyone was excited and you guys are all talking to us much differently than you are right now. It's just getting back to playing that smart defensive game and playing with effort and letting our offense do the work. We know what's got to improve. It's right there in front of us."