Is the day saved, Chicago Blackhawks fans? Will the team revert to the version we saw earlier in the season, start racking up points and make a run to the Central Division crown with Marcus Kruger back in the fold? That remains to be seen, but it’s good news to report Kruger is set to return.
After breaking his wrist Dec. 17 against Edmonton — just 33 games into the regular season — Kruger is set to make his return Saturday night against Calgary. It’s a little ahead of schedule for the Blackhawks’ defensive-minded center, who was originally scheduled to be out until the start of the postseason. Returning earlier will allow Kruger time to get back into the flow of the game while also getting used to some new teammates.
Kruger wasn’t exactly having a banner offensive season prior to his injury, netting one assist and a minus-5 rating in those 33 games played. But we all know what Kruger brings to the table, and why he received a three-year contract extension while injured. His focus is taking opposing teams’ top lines out of their offensive flow and turning play the other way for the Blackhawks. That latter point is something that has been noticeably missing for Chicago of late.
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During Friday’s morning skate, Kruger was lined up with Andrew Desjardins and Andrew Shaw. You may remember this line as the one that corralled the top lines of Anaheim and Tampa Bay toward the end of the 2015 postseason run. It came together while coach Joel Quenneville hit his blender, looking for some sort of combination that could gum up opposing offenses while not forcing some of his best offensive players to take on that job.
Kruger has always accepted that role and executed it very well with Desjardins and Shaw during last season’s playoffs. He even contributed the game-winning goal in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals, with his and his linemates’ ability to turn the puck the other way and desire to drive to the net fully on display.
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Kruger’s return probably bumps Richard Panik from the lineup, which is somewhat unfortunate considering he and Shaw were probably the most effective forwards in the Blackhawks’ last couple games. But Kruger’s return is a welcome one, as it offers a hope of some good defense being played by a forward unit in front of a blue line group that has struggled miserably.
Will Kruger’s return necessarily mean the Blackhawks turn things right around? Not necessarily, though it could wind up looking that way. The team takes on Calgary, Vancouver, Minnesota and Winnipeg in its next four games. Those are four teams you’d classify as “meh” to “bad” (despite the Blackhawks’ trouble with the Wild this season), so the Blackhawks could coincidentally grab eight points right upon Kruger’s return. While he would likely contribute to that, I wouldn’t go about calling him a savior if the Blackhawks do right the ship beginning tomorrow.