Michael Frolik and Marcus Kruger may not have envisioned the penalty kill being such a big part of their repertoire. Frolik, certainly not, considering he was a 20-plus goal scorer in Florida and had never played on the kill before the Chicago Blackhawks acquired him in a trade.
But it was nevertheless an opportunity. And whether it’s been the kill or their roles on the fourth line that gets a good chunk of playing time, Frolik and Kruger have been making the most of those opportunities.
“They’ve been real solid all year,” coach Joel Quenneville said of the two. “When they started at the beginning of the year it was a work in progress, and they’ve progressed in a real nice way. They’re first and third on each kill, they’re blocking shots, they’re getting in lanes and play at a good pace. It’s gotten them more of a role, more ice time. And that line played well all year, so a real nice fit for us.”
Here’s the thing about opportunity: When you get it, you have to latch onto it, embrace it and perform at the highest level on it. These two have done that. Their work on the penalty kill has kept them vital parts of it, and their solid fourth-line play has given Quenneville the confidence to put them out there in any situation.
Jonathan Toews, who said he got into Kruger’s ear about shooting and going to the net more -- Kruger gave the Blackhawks a 3-1 lead Wednesday night -- said the two have earned what they’ve gotten.
“It started at the beginning of the season those two guys came in ready to go. They’ve played with a lot of confidence and right now they’re raising their game,” Toews said. “They’re blocking shots and creating offense on the penalty kill and five-on-five. It’s good to see those guys get that confidence. That’s how we need those guys to be, and they’re showing up every night.”
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Frolik said he still considers himself a player who can score more. After recording two consecutive 21-goal seasons in Florida, he hasn’t come close to that with the Blackhawks. But he also loves playing as much as possible, and the penalty kill has afforded that to him.
“It feels good when you can help the team if it’s on the PK, blocking shots, those kind of things. For sure, it helps your confidence when you can be part of the team,” said Frolik, who also has a short-handed goal these playoffs. “You’re going to get (scoring) chances, too, if you put the puck in good areas and forecheck them. It’s a good chance for us to go on the ice and do the job.”
For Kruger, it’s about what it takes to win. And if his work on the penalty kill is a means to that end, he’s happy to be a part of it.
“You try to take advantage of every opportunity you get,” said Kruger, who said former Blackhawks forward John Madden was someone he looked up to for his penalty killing. “It’s just awareness of the ice and reading the play. We have a good system here that seems to work, but it’s a lot of preparation as well. That’s the most important thing, taking pride in doing that job.”
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Maybe this wasn’t what the two had in mind as they were imagining their NHL careers. Everybody wants to be the superstar who scores goals en masse. But penalty killing and playing strong defense are as important in hockey as anything; and Frolik and Kruger have become very good at both.
“You’re not happy when you’re taking penalties, but it’s a good chance for us to go on the ice and do the job,” Frolik said. “And when you do the job, it does feel good.”