The Chicago Blackhawks are a long way from where they’re used to being, and they will need to get back on track without one of their biggest stars.
The Blackhawks will take on the visiting Florida Panthers on Thursday night without two-time Norris Trophy winner Duncan Keith, who underwent knee surgery Tuesday and will miss four to six weeks.
Last season’s Conn Smythe Trophy winner had a meniscal tear repaired in his right knee, something coach Joel Quenneville said had been bothering his top defenseman. He was placed on long-term injured reserve Wednesday, meaning he will miss at least 10 games.
Keith only has two assists but he’s led the Blackhawks in average ice time the last 10 seasons.
”Obviously, you look at a guy like Duncs, he can be arguably maybe the most valuable guy on the team with what he brings to the table,” forward Patrick Kane said.
It’s another pothole on a bumpy early season road for Chicago (3-3-0), which needed another face-lift after its third Stanley Cup in six seasons and will be forced to mix around its defensive pairings without Keith.
David Rundblad, Viktor Svedberg and Trevor Daley may be in line for more ice time, and Michal Rozsival could return next month from long-term injured reserve. Brent Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarsson remain as Chicago’s longtime back liners.
”A lot of defensemen are going to get a lot more responsibility, quality enhanced in their ice time as well,” Quenneville said. ”I don’t think we want to change our style of play, but at the same time we want to make sure that we’re tight.”
Defense and goaltending has been an issue at times for the Blackhawks, who have allowed four goals in their wins and 10 in their losses.
Twice Corey Crawford has lost while surrendering three goals on less than 30 shots, but he has allowed three goals on 59 shots in his two wins.
Florida (3-2-1) has been about as hit-or-miss. The Panthers have 14 goals in their wins and four in their defeats. They are 5 for 15 on the power play in victories compared to 0 for 9 otherwise.
The top line has done much of the damage with Jaromir Jagr and Aleksander Barkov combining for seven goals and 13 points, while Jonathan Huberdeau has two assists.
Florida was lucky to get a point from a 3-2 overtime loss at Pittsburgh on Tuesday. The Panthers trailed 2-0 late but tied the game with goals from Quinton Howden and Derek MacKenzie in the final 11 minutes, 4 seconds.
The goals were the first of the season from Howden and MacKenzie, light contributors on the offensive end.
"They played the game with real good passion and good work ethic," coach Gerard Gallant said. "You hope that rubs off on some of the top players sometimes."
Crawford has won four of his last five starts against Florida, two in shootouts, with a 0.91 goals-against average and .964 save percentage. Roberto Luongo has lost each of his last four against Chicago, one in a shootout, with a 2.49 GAA and .925 save percentage.