NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Duncan Keith had enough. Of the Blackhawks getting embarrassed by yet another opponent, probably. Of the Predators’ Miikka Salomaki, definitely.
With the Hawks down 3-0 early in merely the latest first period gone horribly wrong, Keith came unglued. First, he answered a heavy hit from Salomaki by tackling the winger behind the play and punching him. After Alex DeBrincat and Predators defenseman Matt Irwin had a row, Keith seemed to snap, rushing Salomaki again, taking him down to the ice, putting him in a headlock and flipping him onto his back.
For his troubles, Keith was shown the door to the dressing room — his night finished, and his teammates left to try to kill seven minutes of penalties on his lengthy tab. In all, Keith received two minutes for roughing, two for instigating, five for fighting and 10 for misconduct, plus a 10-minute game misconduct. His 29 penalty minutes were the most by a Hawk since David Koci had 30 in 2007.
Was that what the Hawks — in an epic struggle to be anything short of horrendous defensively — needed from their two-time Norris Trophy winner?
After nine games apart, Keith and Henri Jokiharju were reunited as a pairing. It lasted for less than three minutes of ice time due to Keith’s antics, but who’s counting? Keith, 35, and Jokiharju, 19, were together for 15 games under Joel Quenneville and two more under Jeremy Colliton before the new coach decided to lean on his veterans, pairing Keith with Brent Seabrook (and putting Patrick Kane on Jonathan Toews’ line).
As with the forward lines, the defensive pairings have been a nonstop experiment since. Keith hasn’t seemed to love all the jumbling of lineups, but he’s pleased to be back with the Finnish rookie.
“Yeah, I’m excited,” he said before the game. “I just think that, as a defenseman, you want to have somebody that’s out there supporting as an outlet for you. As a defenseman, you always try to be available for your partner no matter what. [Jokiharju] is pretty good at that, and he’s pretty good at getting back for pucks, too.”
It doesn’t take a great deal of effort to read between those lines and recognize that Keith hasn’t always had such comfort.
“You want everybody to be on the same page out there,” he said. “It makes it easier. You see other teams and the way they play, the way they move the puck, it just looks a lot easier when everybody’s working together, making the right play, making easy plays for your partner. You’re just supporting. That’s what we’re trying to get to.”
Enough blame to go around
Kane attempted to shoulder much of the responsibility for Thursday’s 6-5 loss in Winnipeg, after his line was on the ice for a trio of Jets goals. Does it help the overall cause when the Hawks’ veteran stars speak out to try to take some of the pressure off their young teammates?
“That’s nice. That helps,” Colliton said. “The older guys, naturally, the ones who have been around and won, that’s who the other guys in the room look to. But everyone’s got to take responsibility for their own game, and that will sort a lot of things out.”