With Duncan Keith’s one-game suspension taking him out of the Chicago Blackhawks’ game against the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday night, talk over whether the suspension was justified will eventually give way to the question of what adjustments the Hawks will need to make.
The guy jumping into the lineup will be Sheldon Brookbank, who has not played since April 27 for the Hawks. In the regular season, he had one goal and no assists in 26 games and averaged 12:45 of ice time per game this season in a platooning role with Michal Rozsival.
With the question of who will replace Keith out of the way, the more pertinent question of how the Hawks will get along without him has to be asked. Obviously, losing a guy who has been your biggest contributor on defense is always going to be tough, but his contributions go far beyond just what he can do on the ice.
Over the past six games, he has helped bolster the game of defenseman Brent Seabrook, who was languishing with third pairing minutes early on in the series against the Detroit Red Wings before head coach Joel Quenneville opted to put him back on the top pairing with Keith. Since then, Seabrook has been asserting himself both physically and on offense, and has become one of Quenneville’s most reliable players.
The Hawks will also need to get a big performance out of Swedish-born defenseman Johnny Oduya in Game 4. Oduya has been inconsistent in his performances during the playoffs but has looked good in the majority of his games. The Hawks will need him to make sure that he falls on the good side of the ledger in Game 4, or else they could be playing from behind once again.
Finally, youngster Nick Leddy is going to need to play more minutes both on the power play and also conceivably on the penalty killing side of things. Especially with a hobbled Niklas Hjalmarsson on the ice, Leddy’s speed and ability to turn the play around quickly will come in handy for the Hawks’ transition game.
The Hawks did practice with Keith on Wednesday, meaning that head coach Joel Quenneville hasn't shown his hand yet as to who will be on pairings together. Here is a potential suggestion for him to use:
Seabrook - Oduya
Leddy - Hjalmarsson
Rozsival - Brookbank
While it would make some sense for Quenneville to go with lineup continuity, or to pair Seabrook up with former running mate Leddy, the above combinations have a few advantages. Each pairing would feature a defenseman who has shown himself to be a solid presence for the most part in the playoffs, and pairing up Leddy with Hjalmarsson would be advantageous because of the differences in their playing styles.
Leddy tends to be the guy more likely to lead the rush, while Hjalmarsson is more content to hang back and guard the back end against a quick transition by the opponent.
Realistically, there is no way for the Hawks to replace Keith. The Hawks can pick up the slack for him, however, and thank their lucky stars that they only lost him for one game.
Keith will obviously be raring to go on Saturday night at the United Center, but until then, the Hawks face a steep uphill climb without him.