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.”
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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.”