Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook haven’t been steady partners for years. Keith spent the past few seasons with Niklas Hjalmarsson, while Seabrook has cycled through a number of partners, most notably Johnny Oduya and Michal Kempny.
But you don’t spend nearly a decade skating alongside another guy without having his tendencies, habits and style burned into your memory. So now that they’re back together, it’s been an easy transition for the two longest-tenured Blackhawks.
“I’m comfortable playing with him, for sure,” Keith said. “Obviously, I played some of my best hockey with him. It’s a good pairing and he’s easy to play with.”
Besides, it’s not as if they never see the ice at the same time. Special teams and special situations often bring them together.
“We’ve been playing together throughout the seasons at different times, whether it’s on the power play, or at the end of the game, whatever the situation’s been,” said Seabrook, who had a goal and two assists in the opener against the Penguins. “But, yeah, there’s a comfortability we’ve always just sort of had with each other. That’s something we want to build off of right off the start and try to roll with it.”
Connor Murphy was expected to get the first shot at being on the top pairing alongside Keith, but Joel Quenneville appeared underwhelmed with Murphy early, and decided to go back to his old stand-by for the time being. Murphy has been on the second pairing with Kempny through the first two games of the season.
The pairings figure to change throughout the season, especially with an eight-man rotation.
“We tried all the other guys with them to see what could be a possibility, and in games, they’ll be exposed to other partners, as well,” Quenneville said. “We’ll get a better idea as we go along, but that familiarity of having a top pair [is the] reason right out of the gate.”
Biding his time
Cody Franson and Jordan Oesterle are the odd-men out so far in that eight-man rotation. It’s not exactly what Franson had in mind when he turned down contract offers from other teams to come to Chicago on a player-tryout agreement.
Franson has been an everyday player since breaking into the league with the Predators in 2009-10. And he’s bracing for the challenges that come with being in and out of the lineup.
“The biggest challenge is probably the mental side of things, staying positive and trying not to read too much into it,” Franson said. “I’m very confident in what I do, and what I can bring to the table. And when I get my chance, I’ll demonstrate that.”
Meanwhile, Jan Rutta had a strong NHL debut on Thursday and was back in the lineup Saturday, paired with Gustav Forsling. The mellow Rutta said the eight-man rotation doesn’t put any extra pressure on him each night.
“I mean, even if there were just six defensemen, there’s still a lot of talent in Rockford, and this is the NHL, so you have to work hard every day,” he said. “There’s no difference.”
Tanner Kero, who suffered an upper-body injury in Thursday’s opener, returned to the ice for Saturday’s morning skate but didn’t play in the game. Tommy Wingels made his Hawks debut in his place at fourth-line center. … Eddie Olczyk, who is battling colon cancer and undergoing chemotherapy every other week, was at the game in good spirits.
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