How will Blackhawks make up for Duncan Keith's absence?


How will Blackhawks make up for Duncan Keith's absence?

By Jeff Hamilton

WINNIPEG - Once the puck drops on Friday night’s game against the Jets, it will mark the official beginning of life without Duncan Keith.

Keith, who was suspended indefinitely by the NHL after he swung his stick and struck the face of Minnesota forward Charlie Coyle midway through the first period of Tuesday’s 4-1 loss to the Wild, will have to wait for a final decision from the Department of Player Safety after a phone hearing scheduled for Friday afternoon.

[RELATED - In Duncan Keith's absence, 'everyone can do a little more']

But while the seconds tick down to a final decision, the team has already begun to move forward without their all-star defenseman. And despite how difficult it will be to fill the shoes of a player who plays in every possible situation and logs the most ice time out of any of his teammates, it does open up a rare opportunity this late in the season: tryouts.

“I know that right down the stretch here we’ve got seven guys we have, we feel we have another guy that can help us as well,” said coach Joel Quenneville after the morning skate. “Their performance is going to dictate who’s going to be playing with who and the quality and the quantity of ice time that’s out there.”

For the meantime, Trevor van Riemsdyk will fill in for Keith on the top line alongside Niklas Hjalmarsson. Brent Seabrook, who missed last game with an illness, is back and will play beside Viktor Svedberg, with Michal Rozsival and Erik Gustafsson making up the third pairing.

Quenneville also hinted at some added responsibilities that could come into play tonight. He said he expects van Riemsdyk to see more time on the power play; same goes for Gustafsson and Svedberg, who will also see his penalty-kill minutes increase.

“There’s some big minutes and those are going to be important to manage and watch to see who’s taking advantage of them as well,” said Quenneville.

Up front, the Blackhawks will be without Marian Hossa, who is suffering from an illness and didn’t make the trip to Winnipeg. Thomas Fleischmann will move up to the right wing to play with Jonathan Toews and Andrew Ladd, while Brandon Mashinter will make his return to the lineup after sitting the last six games. He’ll play left wing on the third unit with Teuvo Teravainen and Dale Weise.

Artem Anisimov will also draw back into the lineup after missing the last two games with a lower-body injury. He’ll reunite with Artemi Panarin and Patrick Kane – a line that has been dangerous for most of the season but has slumped of late. 

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Kane has just two assists in his last five games, while Panarin has just two in his last nine and no points in his last three.

“I think that line has had some decent stretches, (but recently it’s) not the production that they set forth earlier on,” said Quenneville. “But they still get looks in games, they’re still dangerous (and) they get a lot of attention from our opponents.

“I still think every time they hit the ice they’re a threat to score and there’s a lot of danger in their game.”

Notes: The Blackhawks are 3-1 against the Jets this season, winning the last three games against their Central Division foe but 3-5-2 in their last 10…Scott Darling will make his eighth straight start. In 25 games this season, he has a record of 9-8-3 with a 2.51 goals-against average and a .914 save percentage…Patrick Kane has three goals and two assists for five points in four games against the Jets this season.

Wake-up call? Brandon Saad 'surprised' about possibility of being a healthy scratch


Wake-up call? Brandon Saad 'surprised' about possibility of being a healthy scratch

Brandon Saad played a majority of last season on the first line, started this season on the second to change things up, got demoted to the fourth by the fifth game, and could find himself out of the lineup in the sixth.

Before the Blackhawks hit the ice for practice on Monday, the 25-year-old winger found a white jersey hanging in his stall. That's usually reserved for players who are injured — Andreas Martinsen (back) was the only other player wearing one — or players who are on the outside looking in, which appears to be Saad right now considering he was not part of the four-line rotation.

"I don't think anyone wants to be wearing white around here," he said. "But it is what it is and there's nothing you can do but keep trying to improve. It's their job to make the call to put the best team out there to win hockey games."

Known for being even-keeled through the ups and downs, Saad expressed disappointment about the possibility of being a healthy scratch on Thursday against the Arizona Coyotes. He didn't exactly show that emotion following his demotion to the fourth line, perhaps out of respect to the players he was playing with by noting how it brings balance.

But he did on Monday, and it was the first time we've really seen some sort of emotion out of him.

"Everyone makes mistakes and things aren't always going to go your way but to be out of the lineup, a little surprised today," Saad said. "But it is what it is. ... No one wants to be out of the lineup. That's never fun regardless of who you are."

When asked to pinpoint what's gone wrong, Saad said he wasn't the right person to ask.

"I think you got to ask him that," he said, referring to Joel Quenneville and the coaching staff. "It's his calls. For me, you can talk pros and cons as much as you want but just trying to go out there and compete and win hockey games. We've won a few here, I know every game has gone to overtime so they've been close. Nothing was said to me about lineup change or anything like that. You just come in and you see your jersey and you go out there and you play."

So Quenneville was asked.

"Just expect more," he said. "That's the situation."

Is his mindset in the right place?

"I think he's fine," Quenneville said. "His mindset is what it is. Whether it's urgency or passion, coming up with loose pucks in those areas is going to be the difference."

The Blackhawks sending a message shouldn't only be directed at Saad. It also serves as a reminder to his teammates and is important to note for the younger guys about earning your ice time.

"I don't really know where the coaches are coming from so I'm not going to comment on that," Jonathan Toews said respectfully. "But [Saad] has been doing some good things and I think it's good for all of us to know what's going on there because if [Saad] can get his ice time taken away, then so can a lot of guys, myself included. So we all want to play well and have team success."

The Blackhawks need Saad to return to form quickly because he's crucial to their overall success. There's no debate about that. It's why the thought of Saad, who played in all 82 games last season, serving as the 13th forward is frustrating for everyone involved.

It hasn't been a problem in the past, but now it's becoming one because of the Blackhawks' aspirations of getting back to the playoffs and their dependence on their top players.

"I don’t think it’s an issue," Quenneville said. "We just expect more out of him."

Blackhawks make sports history with fifth straight overtime game to start season

Blackhawks make sports history with fifth straight overtime game to start season

The Blackhawks made sports history on Saturday after they appeared in their fifth straight overtime game to start the season.

No NHL team has done that since the league introduced a regular-season overtime period in 1983-84, per the Elias Sports Bureau. It also has never happened in the history of MLB, NBA or NFL, showing just how crazy this early season run has been for the Blackhawks, who have rallied from all five games and have come away with wins in three of them.

"We’ve had five games, every one of them have been extremely intense and the game’s been on the line from start to finish," coach Joel Quenneville said following a 4-3 overtime win over the St. Louis Blues. "Our group’s been competitive this year, the guys have been working hard for one another. I don’t know how many games we’ve been down in the third period, and coming back to win is special."

The Blackhawks appeared in 17 overtime/shootout games last season and won seven of them. They are one of six teams this season that have yet to pick up a regulation win.

On a separate note, Saturday marked the eighth time in Blackhawks history that one player scored a tying goal in the third period and scored in overtime (Alex DeBrincat), according to the NHL's PR department. It's the second time it's happened this year for the Blackhawks, with Jonathan Toews the other on Oct. 6 against St. Louis.