Brent Seabrook figured he had a second or two.
Wheeling around the offensive zone midway through the second period Saturday against the Predators, Seabrook was a step or two behind the blue line when Jordin Tootoo passed across the ice to Duncan Keith at the point. Seabrook thought an ensuing pass might be headed his way, but he wasn’t quite expecting Keith to one-time Tootoo’s relay.
‘‘I wasn’t expecting that pass so quick,’’ Seabrook said. ‘‘With [Keith], you’ve got to be ready at all times.’’
Seabrook lunged ahead and got the puck, and his shot turned into a goal by Tootoo in the Blackhawks’ 5-3 victory.
In only their third full game back together, old partners and pals Seabrook and Keith are starting to relearn each other’s games. The pair was a mainstay on the Hawks’ blue line for years before they were broken up in the spring of 2015, with Niklas Hjalmarsson moving up to the top pairing.
But with the looming return of Johnny Oduya, Keith and Seabrook are back together. And they couldn’t be happier about it.
‘‘I don’t think it’s a secret that I enjoy playing with [him],’’ Keith said. ‘‘He’s my best friend, my closest friend. It’s fun to be out there on the ice with him.’’
Despite their long history, the transition hasn’t been perfectly smooth. As well as the duo played offensively Saturday — Seabrook had two assists, and Keith chipped in another — they were also on the ice for all three of the Predators’ goals. But both said it’s starting to feel like old times.
‘‘I’d like to think you’re able to slip back into it fairly seamlessly, but there is a little bit of an adjustment,’’ Keith said. ‘‘We haven’t played together very often, other than maybe late in the game, when we’re pressing for a goal.’’
But there’s a lot to like about the reunion. For one thing, if Oduya and Hjalmarsson draw the toughest defensive assignments, as coach Joel Quenneville has suggested, that should give Keith more favorable matchups, particularly during home games. For another, Seabrook is a right-handed shot, which makes breakouts and defenseman-to-defenseman passes easier. Hjalmarsson, a left-handed shot, prefers playing his off side for defensive reasons, but it can be limiting offensively.
The arrival of Oduya should ease the burden on Keith, too. Keith is averaging 25 minutes, 53 seconds of ice time, sixth in the league and the most he has averaged since 2011-12, when he shared the league lead with now-teammate Brian Campbell at 26:53. It’s only an extra
shift or two compared with what he had been playing the last four seasons, and Keith said he hadn’t noticed the difference.
‘‘I think that maybe gets overblown a little bit,’’ he said.
But every little bit counts while trying to preserve your top players for the playoffs.
‘‘[Keith] likes playing [big] minutes, but you’d like to have them a little bit lower,’’ Quenneville said. ‘‘It could be a little bit lower number if you have three pairs and you’re comfortable with everybody against anybody.’’
In the meantime, Keith and Seabrook are working out the kinks and trying to remember each other’s style. For Keith, that often means ceding the first quick pass out of the zone to Seabrook, a stretch-pass specialist, and perhaps playing a little more conservatively without the defensive-minded Hjalmarsson by his side. For Seabrook, it means sometimes joining the rush a little sooner and being ready for a pass that might come from any angle at any time.
‘‘I thought it would take a little more time, but it’s already feeling comfortable again,’’ Seabrook said. ‘‘It’s feeling back to normal, back
to the way we used to play. It’s been fun.’’
Follow me on Twitter @MarkLazerus.