Well, it’s come down now. The Hawks will be without their best player this spring (at least since Game 4 the previous round) for Game 4 against L.A. tomorrow night.
We could sit here and wail about the inconsistency of the NHL and their discipline system. It’s an easy target. Keith earned a suspension and even a hearing that neither Dave Bolland or Matt Cooke got. You go back a year and you have Shea Weber and his Gruesome-with-Bugs-Bunny routine on Henrik Zetterberg’s dome not even getting that much either. Obviously, there’s not consistency or even reason. It seems that Keith got punished for the optics of his play, in that it was wide out in the open and not anywhere near the puck where it could be cluttered by whatever else was going on.
But that’s on the petty side.
While Keith’s play wasn’t as malicious as it might have looked, it was every bit as reckless. He might not have meant to hit Carter in the face, but when you’re swinging your stick wildly you’re asking for trouble, and that’s what Keith got.
While some may complain that it only punishes the retaliation and will encourage more antics from the Kings in the hopes of drawing more dumb penalties from retaliating Hawks, that’s been going on since the dawn of time. It’s up to Keith and his teammates to not respond to such tactics. Keith didn’t, and now he can look forward to every opponent trying to get him to at least momentarily leave his senses.
As for what it means for the Hawks, it’s a big blow but I’m not totally convinced it’s a death knell. Such are the Kings offensive struggles. Obviously, Sheldon Brookbank will come in. That’s an issue as that’s a right-sided d-man coming in to replace a left-sided one. How the pairs shake out should be a trick. One ploy would be to reunite Leddy and Seabrook, but that might be a lot to ask of Leddy.
More likely is that Hjalmarsson, even hobbled as he might be, will flip to the left side to play with Seabrook (they have before). That would at least keep Leddy-Rozisval and Oduya-Brookbank together, and those are pairs that have lined up for a lot of the season. But it robs the Hawks top pairing of a transition game, even though Hammer has been pretty tidy with the puck under pressure.
Most likely, Brookbank will see less than five minutes and everyone is going to skate with just about everyone. For one game, I think the Hawks can survive, provided Leddy has about as good of a game as a Hawk as he ever has and Oduya can reverse the slide he’s on. I know it’s asking a lot, but it’s not completely unrealistic.
For the power play, I would imagine Oduya jumps on one of the units while Leddy will take as much of the two minutes as he can. Whatever, not like the power play can get any more useless.
Keith’s absence will be felt on the kill, where his mobility has chased down a lot of loose pucks that could have been cycled for more chances.
Still, the Hawks biggest advantage is their forwards’ speed against the plodders of the Kings blue line. While Keith’s ability to get the puck out of the zone and up to them is a part of that, it’s not like Hammer, Seabrook, and Leddy have been totally incompetent with that this series. The Hawks will need a big effort from all of their forwards to help out on both ends.
Yeah, I’ll be watching from behind the couch too.