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Round 2
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Stanley Cup Final

Keith tries to find answers for early struggles

Friday, 11.12.2010 / 9:55 AM / Player Profiles

By Brian Hedger - NHL.com Correspondent

CHICAGO – There's a TV ad for EA Sports' NHL '11 video game that starts with Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith behind his own goal, looking to bring the puck out.
 
After running through several options – all of which end badly – Keith decides the best option is calling his own number.
 
"I'll just take it myself," he says before leaping over a sliding defender and scoring.
 
It's an entertaining way to sell a video game -- but the sight of Keith saying he'll do it himself now stands out a little during a somewhat disappointing start to his season. On the bright side, Keith is solidly among the League's Top 10 scorers among defensemen with 1 goal and 12 points. He's also leading the League in ice time at 28:43 a game.
 
Yet that huge amount of ice time is now the subject of scrutiny in Chicago. Some are starting to wonder if Keith's minus-7 rating and poor play of late may have something to do with exhaustion.

Keith, the reigning Norris Trophy winner, said his funk probably has more to do with preparation.
 
"I wouldn't say fatigue," he said Thursday after a players-only meeting at the United Center to discuss the sub-par 8-9-1 record the Hawks will bring to Nashville for a game on Saturday night. "I think (it's) just more focus. I need to be more focused game in and game out."
 
Hawks coach Joel Quenneville agrees.
 
Quenneville tried to send that message to Keith during Wednesday's 2-1 home loss to Phoenix. After pairing Keith with Nick Boynton, Quenneville sat him for the final 3:58 of the second period. Earlier in that period, Keith had a hand in allowing both Phoenix goals -- just 35 seconds apart.
 
Both scoring chances came off 2-on-1 rushes that were started by Keith appearing to try to do too much in the offensive zone. He couldn't hold the puck in the zone on the first, leading to a break that Wojtek Wolski capped with a great pass to Kyle Turris for a tap-in. On the second, Keith went hard on the attack in the offensive zone and had the puck hop over his stick to start another break – this one finished off by a blast from Eric Belanger past Marty Turco.
 
"I think it was pretty simple," Keith said of being benched. "I was out for a couple of goals there and left my partner for a couple of 2-on-1s that turned out to be the goals that cost us the game, unfortunately. I think it just comes down to me needing to play better the last two games – and maybe go back to more than that. I haven't been my best, and I know I need to be better."
 
He also knows that he's been a little overeager.
 
"I know for myself, I'm trying to do too much," Keith said. "I think the more simple I keep it, the better off I'll be. Playing a lot of minutes, the team will be better off too."
 
By splitting Keith from usual partner Brent Seabrook, Quenneville hoped to force each player to focus more on his individual game. Keith said that strategy often works, so he understands the decision.

"We've played together for a while," he said of Seabrook. "When you play together, there's that factor where you're comfortable with him and know what he's going to do. When you're with a different partner ... it forces you to go back to basics and play more solid, because you're not as familiar with your partner."
 
It may also help them ratchet up their focus. Players who've won Cups before sometimes say that focus and intensity can lag in seasons following championships because of the subconscious comparison between regular-season games and playoff games. Keith was asked if that could be the case with him and the Hawks, but he's not ready to accept that as a factor just yet.
 
"Obviously it's different, but there's no excuses," he said. "There's no reason why I shouldn't be ready and focused and playing the way I can. Obviously, you're going to go through a long season (and) you're not going to play as good as you want. At the same time, I know I can play a lot better and have a lot less inconsistencies."
 
Not to mention a better rating, which Quenneville said is better judged over a longer time span than 18 games. Though Keith's play is a bit concerning, the Hawks and their coaches aren't ready to hit the panic button just yet.
 
"The focus is on one guy, but Duncs is a proud guy," Quenneville said. "Everybody has a stretch they want to get out of, whether it's a game or two or a trend. He's one guy who (playing) simple is probably going to make him more effective. That's what we're looking for."
 
Well, that plus more hard work, which remains part of Keith's routine. While it was a bit surprising to see him stapled to the bench for the last few minutes of the second period on Wednesday, it wasn't that surprising to see Keith zip around the ice in a T-shirt and shorts following a 3-2 home loss to Columbus in October.
 
This is, after all, the same guy who only missed a couple of shifts after having seven teeth knocked out in the clinching game of the Western Conference Finals series last season.
 
"He's been good for so long that I don't think we're worried about it," Hawks veteran defenseman Brian Campbell said. "Everybody goes through those situations throughout the year. We need Duncs and he's going to continue to work hard, like he always does. When things are down and not going well, you work hard – and that's what he does."

I've been getting frustrated lately, and the only thing keeping me sane was the team winning and other people stepping up and scoring. Then you just kind of let it go and realize you can end the series with one shot, that frustration goes away for a brief moment, and that's what happened.

— Montreal forward Max Pacioretty after scoring the series-winner in Game 4 -- his first career playoff goal -- to eliminate the Lightning and send the Canadiens into the second round