Analysis

Chicago Blackhawks Activate Kruger; Tampa Bay Prediction, TV Listings

By Colin Likas
May 1, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks center Marcus Kruger (16) takes a face off against Minnesota Wild center Mikko Koivu (9) during the second period in game one of the second round of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs at United Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports
May 1, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks center Marcus Kruger (16) takes a face off against Minnesota Wild center Mikko Koivu (9) during the second period in game one of the second round of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs at United Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports /
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The Chicago Blackhawks made an important move prior to tonight’s home game against the Tampa Bay Lightning

It’s another game night for the Chicago Blackhawks, as they play host to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the third of a four-game homestand.

The Lightning have rapidly gone from the 2015 Stanley Cup runners-up to the last-place team in the Eastern Conference. It’s really pretty incredible, although there are some noticeable factors in that descent.

We’ll get to looking at tonight’s opponent a little further in a moment. But first, we have important news regarding a move the Blackhawks made earlier today.

A bottom-six center returns

Marcus Kruger has been out since the start of the calendar year with an upper-body injury. He was activated off injured reserve earlier today and is a game-time decision against the Lightning.

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Simultaneously, Dennis Rasmussen is a game-time decision tonight due to an illness. He missed the team’s morning skate.

This puts the Blackhawks’ roster back to a full complement of 23 players, including 14 forwards. This will hopefully mean we see little to none of Jordin Tootoo, unless Kruger and Rasmussen both aren’t ready to go tonight.

Kruger is a necessity for the Blackhawks at this point. The team has had major trouble possessing the puck of late, and Kruger is a guy who goes out into defensive-zone situations and pushes the puck the correct direction. Additionally, Kruger is probably the Blackhawks’ second-best faceoff guy, and Jonathan Toews has struggled in that department of late.

The guess here is Kruger would slot in ahead of Nick Schmaltz at the center spot, and Schmaltz would wind up playing a wing. Tanner Kero has been pretty good at center recently (though his line with Vincent Hinostroza and Marian Hossa has been among the worst offenders in puck possession struggles), so I’m not sure coach Joel Quenneville would move him.

However, one thing is clear regardless of where Kruger would slot in: It’ll be great to have the Swedish center back on the ice. Let’s hope he can stay healthy now, as it’s unclear what kind of trade-deadline help is or isn’t coming for the Blackhawks.

Projected lines for tonight’s game

Now, the Blackhawks did have a morning skate today, but the lines were without Kruger and Rasmussen. So, if both of them are unable to suit up, here’s what you’ll see from the forwards:

Ryan Hartman-Jonathan Toews-Richard Panik

Artemi PanarinArtem AnisimovPatrick Kane

Vincent Hinostroza-Tanner Kero-Marian Hossa

Andrew Desjardins-Nick Schmaltz-Jordin Tootoo

Poor Schmaltz. That line is made to skate five minutes for an entire game.

The defensive pairings are not set in stone, and after Michal Kempny was benched for being on the wrong end of a goal against in Sunday’s third period against Vancouver, it’s anyone’s guess if Michal Rozsival will draw back in.

That would be a terrible choice, in my opinion, as the Lightning have a ton of speed. With Trevor van Riemsdyk and Brent Seabrook — two other slower guys — already in the lineup, adding a third would just be pouring gas on a fire.

Corey Crawford will get the start in net tonight. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Scott Darling get the call Thursday against Winnipeg ahead of the upcoming All-Star break.

On to the Lightning, whose lines I’m taking from dailyfaceoff.com:

Ondrej PalatVladislav NamestnikovNikita Kucherov

Alex KillornTyler JohnsonJoel Vermin

Brian BoyleValtteri FilppulaJonathan Drouin

Michael Bournival-Cedric Pacquette-Gabriel Durmont

Victor HedmanAnton Stralman

Jason GarrisonAndrej Sustr

Braydon CoburnNikita Nesterov

Andrei VasilevskiyBen Bishop

The starting goaltender was one area I went away from dailyfaceoff, as Lightning beat writer Joe Smith tweeted earlier today that Vasilevskiy will get the start.

Also, Garrison is questionable on the defensive end, as is J.T. Brown at forward.

There are a lot of familiar faces here, but key ones missing are Steven Stamkos and Ryan Callahan. Both guys are out with injuries, and it’s clearly costing the Lightning.

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  • There are still obvious threats, though. Kucherov is having a fine season with 42 points in 41 games. Hedman is second on the team with 38 points and forms a potent defensive combo at both ends of the ice with the durable Stralman.

    Drouin, Johnson and Palat are all speedy guys with finishing power, though they’ve had varying degrees of success this season. Namestnikov was a fourth-line occasional healthy scratch in the 2015 postseason, so it’s incredible to see him filling in for Stamkos at top-line center.

    A major issue for the Lightning has been the goaltending, as both Vasilevskiy (.907/2.86) and Bishop (.905/2.78) have faltered. Not helping matters is only four players on this team being at 30 or more points. I wonder if Pacquette is going to French chirp Toews with his whopping eight points on the season like he did in the 2015 Cup Final.

    TV listings and prediction

    Game time: 7:30 p.m.

    TV: Comcast SportsNet

    Radio: WGN 720-AM

    Live streaming: CSN Chicago Live

    Radio streaming: WGN Radio App

    Prediction: While the Lightning are in the midst of a major funk and dealing with some key injuries, I think they have some speed that’s going to be tough for the Blackhawks to deal with. Tampa is only a moderately better possession team than Chicago (50.90 Corsi-for at 5-on-5 vs. 50.45), but that could be enough of an issue to add another wrinkle.

    Next: Blackhawks Make Small Move In Power Rankings

    Despite these factors, the Blackhawks are the better team here. Kruger returning would make this even more true. Even if the Blackhawks have to roll out the lineup they used at today’s morning skate, I’m giving them a 2-1 win tonight. I’ll say goals from Ryan Hartman and Marian Hossa.

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