Possible absence of Duncan Keith could cost Blackhawks home-ice advantage

Photo Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn/Getty Images

Photo Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn/Getty Images

Back in January, the Blackhawks were the talk of the NHL winning 10 games in a row during that month, and 12 in a row dating back to the end of December.

But two months later, Chicago looks like a completely different team, winning only five games out of 13 in the month of March.

There are a variety of reasons for their recent slump. Marian Hossa recently came back from a lower-body injury and has been trying to get his rhythm back, Marcus Kruger has been out for four months with a wrist injury and just recently returned, the trio of Patrick Kane, Artem Anisimov and Artemi Panarin has slowed down and goalie Corey Crawford has been out for the last couple of games.

Now, heading into April, the Blackhawks are about to take another devastating hit to their team, with the possibility of Duncan Keith being suspended for the remainder of the regular season and into the playoffs.

On March 29 against the Minnesota Wild, Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith was pushed down to the ice. Laying on his back, Keith took his stick and swung it at Charlie Coyle of the Minnesota Wild, and cut his nose open – which eventually lead to a match penalty for intent to injure. Now, he is facing the consequences of possibly being suspended for the rest of the season and into the postseason.

Here is the video of the incident:

With his hearing coming up, Keith’s incident puts the Blackhawks in a horrible position.

Only five games remain in the regular season, and the Blackhawks have fallen from first to third in the Central Division in just one month. With the possibility of losing their best defenseman, and arguably one of the best defenseman in the league, Chicago is on the verge of losing home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

Sitting in third place in the Central Division, Chicago trails St. Louis and Dallas by six points for first and second place, with Chicago having 95 points, and Dallas and St. Louis with 101 points, according to NHL.com

With five games remaining in the season, Chicago most likely has to go 5-0 or 4-1 if they want to have a shot at first or second place in the Central Division.

But with the looming suspension to Keith, it puts Chicago in a tough position to regain first or second place, and to regain home-ice advantage.

Even though we might not see Keith for the rest of the regular season, what Chicago cannot do is get off to another slow start in April – because with five games remaining for them as well, the Nashville Predators are only four points behind Chicago in the Central. If Nashville somehow leaps Chicago for third place, then Chicago has the possibility of not having home-ice advantage throughout the entire playoffs because it puts them as a Wild Card team.

Chicago knows how to play short-handed, because they have been without guys all year long. Like I said earlier, the Blackhawks have been without Marian Hossa for an extended amount of time this year, along with forward Marcus Kruger. Last year they were out with All-Star Patrick Kane for some time because of a broken clavicle, along with defenseman Michal Rozsival, who suffered a broken ankle and missed most of the 2015 playoffs.

If Keith is suspended for the first couple of playoff games, at least Chicago has around two weeks to see what it will be like to play without their top defenseman.

With the Blackhawks being the veteran team they are, I believe they can overcome the absence of Keith. They have a talented roster, but will need their defenseman to step up, meaning we could see minutes increase to Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Trevor Van Riemsdyk, Michal Rozsival and Erik Gustafsson.

The Blackhawks have their work cut out for them during these last two weeks of the season, and the Keith incident could cost them home-ice advantage.

You can follow me on Twitter @rnickels26