It’s not a big surprise that Duncan Keith is still Duncan Keith. It’s the long, grueling season ahead that might become problematic for the Blackhawks’ two-time Norris Trophy winner.
Keith showed no ill-effects of the knee problems that forced him to miss the World Cup and four preseason games when he played against the Red Wings on Tuesday night at the United Center. He had two assists, a plus-3 rating and looked like himself in a 6-1 victory.
The only concession to the injury was more a concession to rust. His 19:41 of ice time was third among Hawks defensemen behind Brent Seabrook (22:18) and Michal Kempny (20:36). Keith played only 5:20 in the third period as the Hawks (2-3-0) cruised to their second preseason victory in three games.
“I’m ready to roll,” Keith said. “It feels good. I think it was a good test getting back in a game situation, so I was happy with it.”
If Keith showed any signs of discomfort or even rust, coach Joel Quenneville didn’t see it. Keith assisted on the Hawks’ first goal when Ryan Hartman back-handed a rebound of Keith’s shot from the left point 5:04 into the game. Keith added an assist on Nick Schmaltz’ goal in the second period off a nifty keep-in — feeding Artemi Panarin for a one-timer that Schmaltz re-directed — for a 4-1 lead.
“Solid,” Quenneville said when asked about Keith. “Good gap, good play-recognition. Patience. He certainly didn’t look like he missed too much. Good addition with him helping manage about the same ice time. Really defended well. How he handled it was encouraging.”
The big test, though, will come Wednesday and then Thursday and then Saturday if he plays in the Hawks’ final preseason game against the Blues at Scottrade Center. And then into the regular season, which begins next Wednesday against the Blues at the United Center.
But Keith does not anticipate having to nurse this injury through the season, though it’s unlikely the Hawks will tempt fate by giving Keith the monster minutes he’s had in leading the Hawks in time-on-ice the past 11 seasons.
“I’ve had a lot of injuries over the year and those are always things you deal with and find a way to work through. And this is no different,” Keith said. “I feel good and I’m happy with it, and I’m excited the way it’s [going] and I think it will be good going forward.”
It still bears watching. Keith’s fortitude is legendary. He’s been described as indefatigable and bionic and referred to as a cyborg and a robot in his brilliant 11-year career. But in reality he’s human. And at 33, the ever-dependable Keith has to disprove the notion that the wear-and-tear of 935 NHL games and 24,539 minutes is finally taking a toll.
Prior to last season Keith had missed just 10 games to injury in 11 seasons. But he missed 10 last season after suffering a torn meniscus in his right knee. And it was still giving him problems in the offseason.
“Right now it doesn’t really effect me, so I just want to keep it that way,” Keith said. “It’s one of those things where it’s going to be just focusing on maintaining my health and doing everything I can to make sure I’m feeling as good as I can.”
It was a good night all around for the Hawks as they try to build momentum for next Wednesday’s regular-season opener against the Blues in the final two preseason games. Corey Crawford, playing for the first time in the preseason following the World Cup, stopped all eight shots he faced in the first period before Scott Darling replaced him to start the second period.
And several players fighting for roster spots made an impact in the victory. Hartman, Vinnie Hinostroza, Richard Panik and Nick Schmaltz scored for the first time in the preseason. Alexandre Fortin, the 19-year-old forward, had a goal and an assist. He scored on a bad angle shot that bounced off Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard to give the Hawks a 5-1 lead in the third period. Previously, Fortin made a nifty cross-ice pass to Panik for an assist.
Hinostroza had a couple of nice hustle plays, including one in his own end that ignited the rush that ended with his goal, which came off Andrew Desjardins’ turnaround shot in the slot.
They’re making it tough on Quenneville and Stan Bowman to cut the roster — and Quenneville couldn’t be happier.
“I think we have more [roster] spots than we’ve had in the past, but the competition, nothing got sorted out tonight. Made it real difficult on us,” Quenneville said. “It’s real positive organizationally. These young guys, we need some of them. How many we need will be determined going forward, because they all enhanced their chances.”