Kings won't change plan because Keith isn't playing
LOS ANGELES -- Though it may be a relief for the Los Angeles Kings to know they don't have to deal with Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith in Game 4 of the Western Conference Final on Thursday, they said nothing changes for them despite the fact the Blackhawks won't have their top blueliner.
The NHL's Department of Player Safety suspended Keith for Game 4 for high-sticking Kings forward Jeff Carter during Game 3 on Tuesday. Sheldon Brookbank will play in Keith's place when the Blackhawks attempt to take a 3-1 lead in the best-of-7 series at Staples Center (9 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS).
"Spend time in their zone -- that's our game, so really do nothing different," Kings defenseman Matt Greene said when asked what his team can do to take advantage of Keith being out. "Just get pucks behind their 'D' no matter who is playing, whether it's Keith or Brookbank, if that's who they're tossing in there. You've gotta be ready and we've gotta establish our game, which is a grinding game, offensive zone time game, and that's it."
Brookbank will make his 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs debut in place of Keith, who has 10 points, a plus-5 rating and averages a team-high 24:44 of ice time per game, playing in all situations.
Brookbank, who had one goal and was a minus-2 in 26 games in the regular season, hasn't played since April 27. He has played in 17 playoff games with no points and a minus-3 rating.
"Chicago is the best team in the League this year, not based on one player," Kings coach Darryl Sutter said. "In fact, Duncan Keith's minutes were cut back substantially this year to allow them to be a fresh team every night. Probably one of the reasons they were the best team in the League by a long shot was the fact that their defense was healthy."
All true, but bringing in Brookbank for Keith limits what the Blackhawks hope to do on a variety of levels.
Keith plays more than three minutes per game on the power play and Chicago's League-best penalty kill. He played more than 25 minutes in Game 2 and more than 26 in Game 3. He's a big factor in the Blackhawks' rush game, starting plays from behind the blue line. Chicago's forwards constantly look for the stretch pass, and Keith can deliver it on the tape.
"Their forwards are still going to be looking for it [the stretch pass], so you have to respect that," Greene said. "You have to approach this game the same way."
If anything, the Kings may try to be even more physical on the Blackhawks defensemen early in the game, knowing full well that Chicago coach Joel Quenneville could go with five players if the game is tight in the third period.
"Maybe [Brent] Seabrook will take some more minutes. I'm sure [Nick] Leddy will play some more minutes," Kings center Jarret Stoll said. "We have to have the same mindset to be on these guys, be hard on them, be physical on them, and just make it a tough game for them in every situation on the ice. It may not go our way in the first period or second period, but keep at it, and in the third period, or if this game goes to overtime, whatever the case may be, they'll be feeling."