Is Duncan Keith having the best season of his career?

Is Duncan Keith having the best season of his career?
December 18, 2013, 10:00 am
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After he talked of the Chicago Blackhawks’ game overall, their special teams and their victory, Duncan Keith was asked about himself.

What does he think of his game?

“Pretty good,” Keith said, hesitant to go further. “I don’t like talking about my own game.”

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Keith may not want to talk about his game, but his game is talking plenty for him. He has 32 points, most among NHL defensemen entering Wednesday night’s games. That point total, to which he added a goal and an assist in the Blackhawks’ 3-1 victory over Nashville on Tuesday, also ranks him 21st among all skaters in the league.

The points get Keith more notice in the early Norris Trophy running, but his overall game has been hard to ignore. He’s a plus-15 so far this season, he’s been as strong defensively as offensively and has made the most of his minutes, be it 5-on-5 or on either special teams unit. His teammates and coach have noticed how good Keith’s been this season.

“He’s skating well, he came into camp in great shape and it’s paying off,” Patrick Sharp said. “He’s been playing well on that power play and makes good plays defensively as well. He’s getting the (Norris) recognition now because his points and offensive numbers are high, but we know how valuable he is in all different areas.”

Coach Joel Quenneville recently said Keith may be better now than when he won the Norris in 2009-10.

“He does so many good things out there with the puck, with his gap,” Quenneville said after Tuesday’s game. “He’s chipping it in offensively at a different rate than we’ve seen, and we like what he’s bringing.”

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Keith isn’t a fan of taking the individual spotlight. He’s long been about the team game. As for those points, they’re nice and all, but his chief focus is how he’s playing on the other end of the ice.

“I’m trying to have a good gap and be good defensively. That’s your first and foremost job: how you defend,” he said. “It’s something I take a lot of pride in. The offense just takes care of itself.”

And it has. Keith’s been doing all this while playing nearly three fewer minutes a game than he did when he won the Norris in 2009-10. Given the Blackhawks’ defensive depth, he doesn’t have to log that many anymore. Still, he’s doing the same good work and is still in the same tremendous shape. He said he could be in his best shape ever, a bold statement considering he’s coming off his shortest offseason.

“I did a few things differently,” he said. “As you get older and you play some years, you have to adjust. The league always seems to be changing. You’re trying to adapt, learn new things as far as training, taking care of yourself. I feel I’m in really good shape, probably the best of my career right now.”

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The Norris Trophy race will be hotly contested again this season. Ryan Suter, Erik Karlsson (who has one less point than Keith right now) and Oliver Ekman-Larsson will be among the Norris candidates. But Keith belongs there as much as anyone. Keith may not want to talk about his game but his teammates will. Keith’s game has been speaking for itself, too.

“He’s playing great,” Patrick Kane said. “He’s making it easy for the forwards as far as coming back and getting pucks with speed and making plays. I’m happy for Duncs because he’s had some good stretches over his career. It seems like he’s never satisfied. He’s an important part of our team, for sure.”