NASHVILLE — After nine games apart, Duncan Keith andHenri Jokiharju are together again. Blackhawks coach Jeremy Colliton said the defensemen would be paired Saturday night against the Predators.
Keith, 35, and Jokiharju, 19, were together for 15 games under Joel Quenneville and two more under Colliton before the new coach decided to lean on his veterans, pairing Keith with Brent Seabrook (not to mention putting Patrick Kane on Jonathan Toews’ line).
As with the forward lines, though, the defensive pairings have been a nonstop experiment since. Jokiharju was a first-time healthy scratch before missing the last two games with an illness. With the Hawks in a free fall defensively — having allowed 14 goals in their last two games and been outscored 13-3 in the first periods of the last five — he’s back with Keith, who has been a mentor.
After Saturday’s morning skate at Bridgestone Arena, both players — especially Keith — seemed quite pleased.
“Yeah, I’m excited,” he said. “I just think that, as a defenseman, you want to have somebody that’s out there supporting as an outlet for you. Those are kind of foundational things. 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 this season.
“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.”
Jokiharju, the soft-spoken Finnish rookie, had merely this to say: “It’s awesome to be back with Duncan.”
Not much of a speech, but it says a lot.