Brent Seabrook happy to shoulder a larger load down the stretch
MONTREAL — During the 2015 Stanley Cup playoffs, when the Blackhawks essentially were down to a four-man defensive rotation, Brent Seabrook played a whopping 26 minutes, 17 seconds a night, trailing only Duncan Keith’s preposterous 31:06.
‘‘That playoffs was a whole other beast,’’ Seabrook said. ‘‘But you’re sort of just in it and playing, and you find a groove. It was fun.’’
Well, Seabrook has been having a lot of fun again, playing more minutes than he has since that memorable playoff run. Since being reunited with Keith on Feb. 26, Seabrook has averaged 24:18 — up from 21:47 before that. Three or four extra shifts a night might not sound like much, but it makes quite a bit of difference.
‘‘You notice it, for sure,’’ Seabrook said. ‘‘But you’re never going to complain about more ice time. It’s good. It gets you in the game, and you don’t really have time to think about much.’’
But it likely won’t last. After reuniting Keith and Seabrook for six-plus games, coach Joel Quenneville split them up Tuesday against the Canadiens. Keith was back with Niklas Hjalmarsson, and Seabrook was with Johnny Oduya.
Quenneville originally wanted Oduya and Hjalmarsson to assume the shutdown role they had in the past, but the fact the Hawks gave up 44 shots on goal in a victory Sunday against the Wild didn’t sit well with Quenneville.
Quenneville is comfortable with Seabrook playing big minutes, if necessary, but he rather would have more balance and less of a burden on the back end.
‘‘I’m sure he likes playing a little more, as well,’’ Quenneville said. ‘‘With Johnny Oduya, there’s a little more balance and [ice-time] distribution, as well. We’ll see if those minutes are down. We’re going to change the pairs a little and see how that works out.’’
The race is on
Patrick Kane had a goal and two assists in the Blackhawks’ 4-2 victory Tuesday against the Canadiens to tie the Oilers’ Connor McDavid for the league lead in points with 76. McDavid scored a goal in the Oilers’ 7-1 victory against the Stars.
Kane entered the game two points behind McDavid and one point behind the Bruins’ Brad Marchand and the Penguins’ Sidney Crosby. His dominant run since the start of February — 16 goals and 11 assists in 17 games — has put him in the mix for the scoring title.
Kane didn’t hide the fact he’d love to repeat as scoring champion.
‘‘You have an eye on it,’’ he said. ‘‘I don’t know if you’re at the point where you’re checking it every day yet, but I think there’s some awareness there. I know there’s a lot of guys that are right around pretty much the same number. We’ll see what happens. I’m not thinking about it too much right now, but we’ll see as it gets closer.’’
Former Hawks forwards Andrew Shaw and Phil Danault have been skating on the Canadiens’ top line with Max Pacioretty.
Shaw has 10 goals and 14 assists to go with a career-high 103 penalty minutes. But the bigger surprise has been Danault. The Hawks had the 2011 first-round pick pegged as a Marcus Kruger type, but he has 10 goals and 22 assists and is the Canadiens’ No. 1 center.
‘‘He’s really progressed in the year; he’s doing well,’’ Quenneville said. ‘‘He’s getting an opportunity to play more of an offensive situation. But you like the way he competes, you like the way he works and he added a little offense to his game, as well. You root for a guy like him.’’
Dennis Rasmussen was back in the lineup after being a healthy scratch for four consecutive games. Quenneville said he needed to see more consistency out of Rasmussen, whom he said needs to ‘‘have the puck more.’’
John Hayden, just signed out of Yale, likely will make his NHL debut Thursday in Ottawa or Saturday in Toronto.
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