Blackhawks News

Chicago Blackhawks Gearing Up For The Final Stretch

By Gail Kauchak
Nov 28, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Chicago Blackhawks center Marcus Kruger (16) loses his helmet in the third period of the game against the Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center. Kings won 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 28, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Chicago Blackhawks center Marcus Kruger (16) loses his helmet in the third period of the game against the Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center. Kings won 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports /
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The Chicago Blackhawks had a full practice today, not a short one like they usually do.  This leads one to believe that Coach Quenneville is serious about getting things back on track for this final stretch of the regular season.   All these recent losses, especially to Western Conference teams, cannot be sitting well with the coach that says, “Nobody likes to win more than me”.  Here are a few updates that came out of today’s practice.

Kruger will play.  Marcus Kruger practiced with the team today, and Coach Q announced that he will play against the Calgary Flames this Saturday.  Tracey Myers of CSN Sports reported that Kruger participated in battle drills, which is a very good sign that he is fully rehabbed and ready to go.  Besides, why would the team risk playing him at the tail-end of the season if they didn’t feel he was completely ready to go?

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Krugs centered the fourth line at practice, with Andrew Desjardins and Andrew Shaw on his wings.  It’s that lovely line that was so integral in shutting down top lines during the playoffs last year!  They are reunited, and hopefully can provide that spark that the rest of the lineup so desperately needs.

Kruger’s return should lead to more depth at center.  According to Blackhawks reporter Charlie Roumeliotis, Kruger is 58.3% in faceoffs in the defensive zone.  This is third best in the NHL.  For a comparison, Desjardins is second on the team in defensive zone draws, at 50.6%.  Teravainen draws in at third place, at only 36.7%.

Kruger’s presence should be very helpful on the penalty kill as well.  He was an important part of that unit before his injury.  It also puts Shaw back to the right wing spot, where he is more of a threat.  It frees him up to wreak more havoc along the boards and around the net.

Now of course Krugs could be rusty after so much time off.  Can he single-handedly change the fortunes of the team?  Probably not, but he can certainly help.

Crawford will not make the road trip.  Corey Crawford was not on the ice this morning, and it was announced that he is unlikely to travel on this upcoming road trip.  The Hawks play the Calgary Flames, the Vancouver Canucks, the Minnesota Wild, and the Winnipeg Jets before returning to the United Center on April 4th.  Crow is still listed as day-to-day, so hopefully there is no reason to panic yet.  Heck, this could give him some time to rest and regroup before the playoffs.

Now is the time for Scott Darling to take advantage of some lesser opponents and come through with a few strong outings for the Chicago Blackhawks.  He will start in net against the Calgary Flames.  Coach Q also said that back-up goalie Michael Leighton might get a start on the trip as well.

Kane is getting some needed time off.  Patrick Kane was not at practice this morning.  Instead, Dale Weise took over his usual spot in the line-up.  But Coach Q said that they just wanted to give Kane three days off in a row.  After all, he didn’t get the break his other teammates got during the All-Star break.

Nov 12, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Viktor Svedberg (43) tries to score against the New Jersey Devils during the first period at United Center. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 12, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Viktor Svedberg (43) tries to score against the New Jersey Devils during the first period at United Center. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports /

Defense is still up in the air.  Yesterday, defenseman Viktor Svedberg was recalled from the Rockford IceHogs.  Today, he was on the second defensive pairing alongside Brent Seabrook.  Seabs has now played mostly with Erik Gustafsson, but also with Trevor van Riemsdyk and Christian Ehrhoff in the last half dozen games.  Who the heck is the fourth defenseman going to be?!

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In the meantime, Gustafsson was paired with TVR on the third pairing, and Ehrhoff and Michal Rozsival made up the fourth pairing.  So it looks like Ehrhoff is still on the outside looking in. All this messing with the defense has got to be a detriment to the players.  How can they develop any chemistry with each other?  It seems too late in the year for all this silliness.  Just make a decision and go with it!

Will it be Weise or Panik?  Dale Weise played in Kane’s spot on the second line today.  But we have already established that Kane will play against Calgary.  Richard Panik lined up in Weise’s usual place on the third line with Teuvo Teravainen and Tomas Fleischmann. Since Panik has played so well of late (two goals in the last two games), it will be interesting to see who is the odd man out this Saturday.  I, for one, would like to see Panik get another look.

Meanwhile, things in the Central Division are heating up.  The good news is that the first place Dallas Stars lost last night, so they still sit with 97 points.  The bad news is that the Nashville Predators won.  This gives them 89 points, which is now only two points behind the Chicago Blackhawks (91 points).  The second place St. Louis Blues, who have 95 points, take on the Vancouver Canucks tonight.  Give ‘em hell, Canucks!

Next: Ehrhoff On Second Pairing?

Most importantly, the Chicago Blackhawks have to worry about themselves.  Having Marcus Kruger back in the fold, and everyone else but Corey Crawford healthy should give them a boost.  Road trips are good for team bonding and chemistry, so let’s see if they can right the ship on this four-game stretch.  It all starts in Calgary tomorrow night.

LET’S GO HAWKS!!!!

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