ST. PAUL, Minn. Duncan Keith has been a spectator for long enough; its time to play again.
Keith will be back in the lineup tonight when the Blackhawks face the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center. The Blackhawks are jockeying for position at this point, a playoff berth already secured last weekend. But for Keith, its a chance to shake the rust off and get back to playing those heavy minutes hes logged over the past few seasons.
So how long will it take Keith to get re-acclimated?
I guess were going to find out, Keith said this morning. Ive played a lot of hockey already so Ill just take the first period, (take) short shifts, keep it simple and go from there.
Indeed, Keiths already logged plenty of ice time this season. Hes second in the league with 26 minutes, 53 seconds of ice time per game this season; former teammate Brian Campbell is first, his TOIgame just two seconds higher. If nothing else, Keith got some much-needed rest.
I feel good and stronger than I was before (the suspension), Keith said recently. So hopefully it pays off.
The Blackhawks went a respectable 2-1-2 without Keith, with fellow defensemen picking up his minutes and responsibilities. Keiths return restores the defensive balance the Blackhawks have enjoyed since Johnny Oduya was acquired at the end of February.
That, and that copious amount of ice time Keith always consumes.
It means a lot to your team as far as what he brings, the quality and quantity of ice he gives us, coach Joel Quenneville said. He plays in all situations and important minutes and brings a lot to our back end, our team, our puck-possession game and quickness in all zones.
As much as Keith didnt like watching instead of playing, he said he did observe a few things in his down time.
I think definitely I learned we have a good team. Thats what I took out of it, he said. I think you always try to look at things, that its real easy playing the game (when youre) sitting upstairs and watching from the chair. There are a lot of good teams; its just a matter of playing as a team like we know how to.