Chicago has been without all-star defenseman Duncan Keith for the past eight games, but he could be back in the lineup ahead of schedule after skating with the Blackhawks Sunday afternoon.
Keith had surgery Oct. 20, and the initial timeline on his return was 4-6 weeks. Before being sidelined by surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee, Keith had notched two assists in six games and was averaging upwards of 24 minutes per game. Keith was leading all Blackhawks in average ice time. But after taking part in a full practice with teammates, Keith could be in line for a return three weeks following his injury.
Keith said the injury came during the Stanley Cup final, but he played through the injury and managed to notch the Stanley Cup-winning goal and earned the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP thanks to a three-goal, 21-point post-season performance. Keith told Hedger that the pain from the injury came back early this season.
"I'm feeling good," Keith told NHL.com's Brian Hedger. "Obviously I don't think the leg is as strong as it needs to be, but I definitely feel pretty good for not skating [in a few weeks]. Trainers have helped a lot in preparing to get on the ice. It's a quick turnaround. I try to do a lot of different things to be ready to go, so hopefully it can happen sooner.”
Because Keith was placed on long-term injured reserve, he won’t be allowed to come back into the lineup until Nov. 14, the same day the Blackhawks take on the Blues. Without Keith in the lineup, Chicago has stumbled over the past several games, allowing at least four goals against in three of their past four games.
“He has a big influence on our game and the game itself,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville told Hedger. “Offensively, one area where we really miss [Keith] is him with the puck coming out of our end, and in the offensive zone as well. He defends as good as anybody in the game, so there's definitely a void.”
In Keith’s place, Quenneville has been heaping more minutes on blueliners Trevor van Riemsdyk, Viktor Svedberg and has utilized AHL defenseman Erik Gustafsson as a depth rearguard. When Keith comes back, the Blackhawks can again spread out the talent throughout their pairings and shelter the young defensemen.
The defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks are currently sitting in sixth spot in the Central Division with 15 points.