How Duncan Keith conserved energy in heavy playoff minutes
Over the course of the 2014-15 NHL playoffs, there was a ton of attention placed on Duncan Keith, which makes sense, since he was the single-most dominant player in the league over that time. More than anything, what was talked about was how often Keith was playing.
With Kimmo Timonen’s game in shambles after missing nearly an entire year of hockey with health issues, and Michal Roszival and Trevor van Riemsdyk injured, the Blackhawks were left with defensemen the coach didn’t trust in games they couldn’t afford mistakes. That meant more minutes and more responsibility for the big four of Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Johnny Oduya, and Keith.
Even with the added minutes, Keith tore the competition to shreds and somehow looked like the most energetic guy on the Blackhawks most games, so how did he do it?
Keith is one of the best skaters in the game, which does save him energy when he can avoid checks, but it’s tempting to use that mobility in the way Erik Karlsson does and control the puck constantly. But Keith isn’t 25 like Karlsson, so he can’t expend that kind of energy all the time. So instead of rushing the puck, Keith used his speed to create lanes, and passed the puck an absurd amount of the time, in every zone.
No matter where Keith was on the ice, his first option was always going to be to pass the puck, and by a landslide. Add to this that Keith’s pass success rate in the playoffs was 78.4%, which was in the 90th percentile for defensemen, and you begin to see how he controlled the game. Even more impressive is that Keith’s passing success rate outside the offensive zone was 84%.
Hockey Night in Canada did a short feature on how little time Keith spent with the puck on his stick in the playoffs, and his absurd success rate in transitioning the puck up the ice shows exactly how effective he was.
Playing the amount of minutes he was forced to play, Keith couldn’t be the dynamic, puck rushing defenseman that he has been at other points in time, but he was able to exert just as much control on the flow of the game, and conserved energy to make breakout plays, like the one that won the cup for the Blackhawks.
This is one of those situations where veteran savvy really shows its value.