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Blackhawks get Duncan Keith back, scratch Brent Seabrook in loss to Avalanche

The Hawks were largely noncompetitive against the top-of-the-conference Avs for the third time already this month.

Veteran defenseman Duncan Keith returned for Wednesday’s game after missing the last nine due to injury.
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The Blackhawks welcomed back one of their most experienced defensemen Wednesday and thus pushed out the other.

Duncan Keith’s return from a nine-game absence because of a groin strain equated to Brent Seabrook spending the night as a healthy scratch — for the third time this season — as the Hawks lost to the Avalanche 4-1.

Showing the stock the Hawks have invested in their youth movement, rookie blue-liners Adam Boqvist and Dennis Gilbert remained in the lineup.

“We’ve got to find a spot for Dunc, and we have some young players who’ve played well,” coach Jeremy Colliton said. “With where we are, we can’t expect to make improvements, turn this thing around, if we don’t give opportunity to young players.”

The Hawks did little to turn things around Wednesday. They suffered the seemingly inevitable fate in another matchup against the dominant Avs, who already had beaten the Hawks by three- and four-goal margins this month.

Colorado’s top line of Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog again steamrolled the Hawks’ defense, scoring twice and generating a 12-4 advantage in scoring chances.

“We’ve gotta get a little more emotion,” Keith said. “It’s not going to just turn around, it’s not going to just happen. We need to make it happen. We need to get a little pissed off.”

Keith was on the ice for MacKinnon’s tiebreaking goal but otherwise played very well, registering a team-high 10 shot attempts in 23:16.

Colliton re-formed the Keith-Connor Murphy pairing that enjoyed success in October, creating a ripple effect that reduced the previously excessive workloads for most of the Hawks’ defensemen. Olli Maatta, for example, played fewer than 16 minutes; Boqvist played fewer than 13.

“Probably difficult [for Keith] to get back to his highest level, but he gave us some good shifts and he did have the puck a lot,” Colliton said. “He’s got a shot, so keep trying to get it through.”

Seabrook’s scratch is meaningful not only because of his well-documented massive contract, but also because of the intense frustration he vocalized when held out of the lineup for consecutive games in late October. There seemed to be a miscommunication between him and Colliton during that stretch that didn’t repeat itself.

Seabrook had struggled mightily in recent games. He was on the ice for 21 Hawks scoring chances versus 36 opponent scoring chances in his last four appearances. Keith, however, said he was frustrated to see a “good friend” benched in his stead.

“I thought [Seabrook] had been playing well,” Keith said. “When we’re in the ‘D’ zone a long time, we could break down every little play. Tough to pin it on one guy out there when there’s five guys.”

But the Hawks have lost 11 of their last 15 games, tumbling to last place in the Western Conference.

Colliton said he doesn’t expect trouble in the locker room from future lineup decisions because of the desperate need for a turnaround.

“We’ve got to do what’s best for the team,” he said. “The guys in the room, I believe they want to win, so they’ve got to believe that every decision we make is to help the team win, to have success short- and long-term.”