Sunday’s game against the under-.500 Winnipeg Jets should have been just another one of 82 games for the defending Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks. And yet, thanks to two successive losses emphasizing a six-game out of nine losing streak, Blackhawks fans continue to creep closer and closer to the panic button.
A large part of the reason for the team’s struggles has been a lack of consistent puck possession. All season, the Blackhawks’ top line has been able to establish momentum from the opening draw, putting up asinine numbers in the process.
One of the beneficiaries of the top lines success has been Duncan Keith, who leads the Blackhawks in time on ice, and defensemen in points. So, when Keith went missing last game due to illness, the Blackhawks were significantly affected.
It’s not just the stats that make Keith a Norris Trophy candidate, however. When on the ice, Keith makes everyone better, as evidenced by his +19 rating — along with his partner Brent Seabrook’s +24. While Niklas Hjalmarsson was filling in with Seabrook, the chemistry was not there, as was the playmaking potential that bothers defenses night in and night out.
In the past, Keith would misplay some pucks that drew the ire of fans, even after proving himself as the team’s best defenseman. But, over the past two seasons, Keith’s hockey sense and risk aversion has increased what seems exponentially.
Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said at practice today that despite Keith not taking the ice, he should be ready to go Sunday. Although the forwards in front of Keith may be different than when he previously started, ideally the result will be a Blackhawks win.
Follow Mike Guzman on Twitter @Mike486.