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Duncan Keith doesn’t have to talk; his game is loud enough

Updated: November 26, 2013 10:31PM

EDMONTON, Alberta — You want to make Duncan Keith uncomfortable? Want to make him squirm and hesitate and look for an escape route? Don’t fire a 90-mph slap shot at him — he’ll gladly step right in front of that. Don’t barrel down on him on a 2-on-1 — he’ll calmly break it up. Don’t try to push him around — he’ll aggressively push right back.

No, if you want to make Keith uneasy, there’s one sure-fire way to do it: Ask him to talk about himself, about his superlative play of late on both sides of the puck, about his Norris Trophy chances. Fire one or two questions like that in his direction, and the poor guy’s looking for a slap shot to dive in front of.

“I don’t really like talking about myself,” Keith said with a pained look on his face Tuesday afternoon, coming off two straight games that Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville termed “special” — his highest accolade. “Maybe ask somebody else. I’m trying to stay in the moment. Let other people analyze my play and talk about it.”

OK, fair enough. Let’s do that.

Let’s start with the goalie, the one who was bailed out by Keith twice in a taut 2-1 victory in Vancouver on Saturday. Corey Crawford was terrific in a 36-save performance that night, but without the two saves an alert Keith made on Alexandre Burrows — once knocking Burrows off the puck when he was staring into a wide-open net, and once poke-checking a Burrows wrap-around attempt away from an open corner of the net — that’s a Vancouver victory.

Crawford just shrugged when asked about Keith’s two tremendous defensive plays. Nothing he hadn’t seen before.

“He plays that way every game,” Crawford said. “That’s nothing new from him. He’s one of the best D-men in the league. We’re pretty used to that by now.”

Next, let’s go to the protégé, the young defenseman who, like Keith, is a gifted skater with an offensive mind-set. You hear a lot of young forwards who come up in the league talk about how they sometimes have to catch themselves from just standing around the ice, slack-jawed, watching superstars such as Patrick Kane and Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin work their magic on the ice.

For Nick Leddy, that’s Duncan Keith. Leddy watches with awe as Keith fires six, seven or eight shots a game toward the net — even nine against Edmonton on Nov. 10. On a team loaded with skilled shooters, Keith’s 130 shot attempts are second on the team, behind only Patrick Sharp’s 139. Only three defensemen in the league have unleashed more pucks than Keith, who’s also the quarterback of the surging Hawks power play.

It helps that the supremely fit Keith plays more than 24 minutes a game — actually three minutes down from his league-leading average in 2011-12 — another number that Leddy just shakes his head at.

“He takes seven or eight a game, it seems, which is amazing,” Leddy said. “It’s like [2012 Norris winner] Erik Karlsson, you were seeing him put up eight or nine shots a game. It’s just… I don’t know how these guys do it.”

Only 72 of Keith’s 130 shot attempts actually made it through to the goalie, and only one has gone in so far. Doesn’t matter. All the shots have created countless scoring chances for the Hawks forwards — rebounds off the goalie, friendly bounces off the back boards, deflections off opponents’ sticks. That’s why Keith has 19 assists through 25 games, more than any other defenseman in the NHL.

Which takes us to guy who knows Keith better than anyone else, his longtime defensive partner. Brent Seabrook said nothing Keith does surprises him anymore — well, nothing on the ice, at least — but he can still marvel at Keith’s ability to create shots for himself.

“It’s his quickness, his foot speed, his instincts — he’s got great instincts,” Seabrook said. “And he’s got a great shot. By moving his feet and getting into good areas, he’s able to find that lane and get pucks through. And he can also get up in the play on the backside of the rush, so guys like Kaner, Toews, Sharpie and Hoss can find him.”

Lastly, let’s go to the coach himself, the final arbiter of ice time and a guy who doesn’t parcel out praise lightly. Quenneville saw Keith post a staggering plus-33 rating in 2008-09. He saw Keith win the Norris in 2009-10 with an eye-catching stat line of 14 goals and 55 assists. And he saw Keith completely take over the last two rounds of the Stanley Cup playoffs last spring.

But this? What Keith’s doing right now? What Keith doesn’t want to even talk about?

This, in Quenneville’s words, is “special.”

“Recently, he’s as good as I’ve ever seen him,” Quenneville said.

And with Keith, that speaks volumes.


Twitter: @marklazerus

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