Marcus Kruger has been asked about Michael Frolik’s absence a few times already this season. His former fourth-line and penalty-killing partner is now making his mark with the Winnipeg Jets.
Kruger always wished Frolik well — well, almost always.
“I hope he’s good. Except against us,” Kruger said with a grin.
On paper, Frolik may have been labeled a fourth liner who didn’t hit his pre-trade scoring potential in his time with the Blackhawks. But for anyone who watched last season, Frolik’s value turned out to be tremendous. He took to the penalty kill like a duck would take to one of Manitoba’s 100,000 lakes. He and Kruger had great chemistry on a fourth line that was given plenty of minutes and responsibility. And in seeing the Blackhawks’ penalty kill through the first few games, there’s no doubt the team missed the void left by Frolik’s trade.
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The Blackhawks will have a mini-reunion with a few players, including Frolik, when they take on the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday afternoon. Reconfiguring the penalty kill without Frolik proved to be tough. As well as Frolik adjusted to it from the start, that didn’t happen with others out of this camp.
“It’s been an area of concern from the outset,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “Just the way Fro grabbed it after not having the chance a couple years, we felt it was there for someone to grab. It’s still a work in progress for us. He did an excellent job for us. He was a key factor in our success, in the regular season and playoffs.”
Meanwhile, Frolik, who was traded to the Jets during the 2013 NHL Entry Draft on June 30, has two goals and four assists in his first 14 games with Winnipeg. On Friday, Frolik reminisced with Winnipeg media about the Cup-team memories he’ll always have.
“It’s something special. I’m going to be (connected) with these guys for the rest of my life on the Cup,” he told reporters. “It will be nice to see the guys. They are a good team and obviously, I want to beat them.”
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Yes, a little revenge victory will be on Frolik’s mind.
“At some point, you want to prove to them they made a little mistake or something. But obviously I’m going to play hard, like I do against anybody and I want to win the game, like against anybody (else). That’s the goal. But it would be nice to beat them for sure.”
As the Blackhawks searched for their new Frolik the kill suffered, going from first in the league last season to worst this one. As Kruger reminds us, recapturing that chemistry, especially one so surprisingly instantaneous the first time, isn’t easy.
“You need to trust each other and maybe that took a bit this year. But last year we just found it right away,” he said. “Me and Fro were playing together for a bit. It was like we had a chance to get to now each other before that. It’s not easy to find that again.”
Defenseman Nick Leddy said Frolik was “obviously a huge loss.”
“Going back to the playoffs, he and Krugs played so well together. Their chemistry was so good and they knew exactly what each other would do. Obviously it’s hard to replicate that,” he said. “But the past couple games the PK has done a great job to get better and keep playing.”
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True, it has started to look better. The penalty kill is the Blackhawks’ latest special-teams work in progress, taking the place of a power play that’s now finding the back of the net regularly. The Blackhawks miss Frolik’s work there, but they’ll find their way — and their next Frolik — as games continue.
“Our PK’s a lot better than the numbers suggest,” said Brandon Bollig. “We’re definitely working out a few kinks, adjusting a few things and hopefully being on the upslope a little more here. We’re definitely looking to improve upon it, and I’m confident that will happen.”