In hockey penalties are a frequent occurrence, and sometimes the referees get it wrong. However, on Tuesday night as the Blackhawks took the ice against the Minnesota Wild in their final meeting Duncan Keith let the bad blood against a bitter rival simmer above the boiling point.
Keith took an uncharacteristically stupid penalty as he retaliated for a hit that had not been called. The hit in question may or may not have been a penalty, but it no longer matters, as now all the focus will be on Keith for swinging his stick up to catch Charlie Coyle in the face.
Blood was drawn, but even that isn’t the whole story.
Bad Blood Boils Over in Minnesota
The real story is the ‘intent to injure’ that ended with Keith getting a five-minute major and a match penalty. Keith was ejected from the game and will be facing a hearing to decide if further discipline will be handed down. Until there is a ruling, Keith will be watching from the sidelines as he is suspended until said ruling is handed down.
Keith is an integral piece of the Blackhawks defense, and being that they are already short on defensive depth it was also a very irresponsible penalty for him to take. Regardless of the bad blood between the two teams, this kind of penalty is never an acceptable risk, let alone in the home stretch of the regular season.
The Blackhawks are fortunate that Brent Seabrook will likely be available to play in Winnipeg after missing a game due to illness, as Keith is likely to get hit with a multiple game suspension. With a similar past incident, it could be more than the two or three games one might expect.
Keith was handed a one-game suspension for a high stick to Los Angeles Kings forward Jeff Carter in 2013. Unfortunately, because of the similarities from that penalty to the one he took against Coyle, the NHL may very well take a longer look at this infraction.
He also received a five-game suspension for an elbow to the head of Daniel Sedin in 2012.
Whether the league will factor in those two hits remains to be seen. Often, they do not look at the players history unless there were recent incidents, however if they deem a player a ‘repeat offender’ they could factor those infractions into their discussion.
Whatever they decide, it would seem likely that Keith will get some sort of supplemental discipline beyond the automatic one-game suspension for the match penalty.
Down the Rabbit Hole
While Keith was likely not thinking of the consequences when he swung his stick, the ramifications will give him an abundance of time to consider the stupidity of such a penalty. It is likely that Keith already sees the error of his ways in this situation, but there is still no excuse for that kind of retaliation. Bad blood or not, Keith leaves his team vulnerable.
This is not Duncan Keith's first retaliatory high-stick, won't be first suspension. He's in big trouble. Expect DOPS to throw book at him.
— Matt Larkin (@THNMattLarkin) March 30, 2016
It comes at a terrible time as the Blackhawks have been struggling to find a rhythm since the trade deadline, and haven’t been the same team since their 12-game win streak ended.
They have gone just 3-5-2 over their last ten games. Without Keith, it is going to be a tough road, and wins will be exponentially harder to come by. Fortunately, they have a slightly simpler path than some of their divisional rivals as they only have two games against playoff teams in their final five games. Though, that hardly guarantees a win.
Keith could potentially miss the remainder of the regular season, and if the league chooses to regard him as a ‘repeat offender’ that could even extend into the playoffs. For the Blackhawks, this is a major speed bump on the path to repeating as Stanley Cup Champions as their blue line was already painfully short on depth.
Officially, Duncan Keith is automatically suspended pending league review. Previous suspension for stick-swinging doesn't help his cause.
— Mark Lazerus (@MarkLazerus) March 30, 2016
While they will likely have Brent Seabrook back for their game against Winnipeg on Friday, they will still be without Corey Crawford, who is reportedly suffering from vertigo and possibly Artem Anisimov (lower body injury). Scott Darling has been playing well in the last few games, but his job will undoubtedly be much more difficult without his best defenseman suited up.
In addition, Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarsson will have a much heavier burden as they will have to absorb the bulk of Keith’s minutes which tend to be quite substantial. With Keith out most of Tuesday’s game Trevor van Riemsdyk, Erik Gustafsson, Christian Ehrhoff, Michal Rozsival, and Viktor Svedberg will also see their minutes increase.
TVR added almost seven minutes to his season average (19:45) on Tuesday at 26:16 the most of any defenseman. Rozsival also had a significant jump up to 22:13, his average time on the ice (TOI) for the season is 15:35. The other veteran, Ehrhoff was on the ice for 23:59, almost ten minutes above his average while Svedberg was used more sparingly (12:42). Hammer’s minutes were actually slightly less than his average, but he is likely to have a significant increase in Keith’s absence going forward.
More minutes could equate to tired defensemen as the Blackhawks start the playoffs. Hopefully, there are no wind gusts, because without Keith the Blackhawks defense looks like it’s been on Jenny Craig.
The pressure now falls to his teammates as everyone will be forced to work harder to compensate on defense. The offense will also be forced to step up their game in order to support Darling and Michael Leighton (should he get a start).
A tough task when many of the teams best offensive weapons are struggling to find the back of the net.
Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin have been held off the scoresheet more than any other time this season. Kane has been held scoreless in five of the last ten while Panarin has been scoreless in seven of the last ten.
The top line of Marian Hossa, Andrew Ladd, and Jonathan Toews has been rolling of late. So has the fourth line of Andrew Shaw, Andrew Desjardins, and Marcus Kruger since Kruger returned Saturday night. However, they need Kane and Panarin to recapture the magic they have had all season long.
Especially with Keith out of the lineup.
For now, everyone must wait to see how the league will deal with Keith’s road rage. The Blackhawks will certainly be hoping that it does not carry into the playoffs.
Kristi is a long time hockey fan who grew up in, and around hockey rinks across the United States and Canada. A native Chicagoan, Loucks has always been an avid Blackhawks fan. Kristi also covers the Chicago Cubs and writes suspense thrillers, when not covering the Chicago Blackhawks. Follow Kristi on twitter @louckske