Kruger earns shot as second-line center


Kruger earns shot as second-line center

Marcus Krugers play has earned him more time on the power play and more minutes overall. Now its earning him a shot at second-line center.

Kruger was skating between Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa on Thursday, and hell be there on Friday night when the Blackhawks host the New York Islanders. For Kruger, its another opportunity in a young season thats been full of them.

Im just going to try and play my game, he said. I know the guys (Im with) are good with the puck but I still need to hold onto it and make plays myself as well.

Kruger said hes gained confidence in his game; his coaches have gained confidence in Kruger.

What got our attention was his patience and play recognition on the offensive side. Playing with top guys, lets see if more of that can come out, coach Joel Quenneville said. Marcus gives us an option based on his performance.

Kruger has adapted quickly since his arrival here last spring, from different linemates to more playing time to special-teams responsibilities. Hes gotten help from all of his teammates, especially his fellow Swedes Niklas Hjalmarsson and Viktor Stalberg.

It helped him a little bit, having other Swedish guys he could talk to if there was something he didnt get, Stalberg said. Hes definitely coming into his own. Hes a lot more confident now than I think he was coming into the season. You cant teach hockey sense and skill he has.

Yes, folks, theres more line tinkering afoot. Krugers moving to second-line center is worth a shot. Its more responsibility on both sides of the puck, but Kruger has done well in other tests this season. The Blackhawks are happy with him.

If it doesnt work, they move Kruger somewhere else and probably put Patrick Kane back at center for a bit. There are options to be had, and Quenneville is going to look into all of them to get the offense going again.

Well see how (Kruger) plays with the top guys. Thats more of an experiment that way as well, Quenneville said. But knowing you always have Kaner to the middle in your back pocket is a nice option to have.

Five Things from Blackhawks-Flames: Same old story on the penalty kill

Five Things from Blackhawks-Flames: Same old story on the penalty kill

Here we go again.

Listen, it’s been one of those nights for everyone, including the Blackhawks. So let’s just save ourselves some time and get to the Five Things to take from the Blackhawks’ 3-2 shootout loss to the Calgary Flames.

1. Good and bad about the penalty kill. OK, let’s start with the good. The Blackhawks’ penalty kill was successful on their last three penalties, including Tyler Motte’s double-minor high-sticking. The bad news is they allowed goals on their first two kills and have now given up 14 in seven games. So what worked on the three late penalty kills? "We just kept our feet moving. We were working. Our shifts were 20 to 30 seconds tops. When you go that short you have the energy to outwork the power play and make up for being down one man," captain Jonathan Toews said. "Yeah, I mean, I think that’s the key right there, and I think our systems fall into place when we’re all moving and we’re all skating the right way."

2. Puck possession. When the Blackhawks are playing at their best, they are dominant in this department. They looked discombobulated in this one from the start and had very little possession, especially early. "Our identity in the past was fast and having the puck. Now we don’t have quite the four-line rotation or the puck enough to get that precision we look for, that identity we’re accustomed to having," coach Joel Quenneville said. "We’re not playing as fast because we’re defending a lot more than we’re used to."

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3. Forsling hurt. Blackhawks rookie defenseman Gustav Forsling was injured in the second period and did not return. Forsling took a big hit from Lance Bouma along the glass between the two benches. Quenneville said Forsling is day-to-day with an upper-body injury. The Blackhawks have better depth at defense this season. Now, with Trevor van Riemsdyk out for a few weeks and Forsling potentially missing some time, they’ll need all of it.

4. Corey Crawford doing just fine. Yes, he’s part of the Blackhawks’ penalty kill that is not doing much of anything right now. But he’s also been stellar at 5-on-5, where he’s allowed just three goals this season. If not for Crawford tonight, the Blackhawks aren’t in striking distance when the third period begins and they probably don’t earn that overtime point.

5. Brian Elliott just a little better. Elliott stymied the Blackhawks in Game 7 of their first-round series last spring, and he aggravated them again on Monday night. Richard Panik nearly had the winner on Elliott until the Flames goaltender stopped his shot with his right skate. Elliott was also good in overtime (6-for-6), when the Blackhawks had a 4-on-3 power play. The Elliott of Monday night is the Elliott the Flames were hoping for when they traded for him this offseason.

Blackhawks get a point but Kris Versteeg wins it for Flames in shootout

Blackhawks get a point but Kris Versteeg wins it for Flames in shootout

When watching Blackhawks hockey over the last few years, several things stood out. Among them was their penalty kill and dominant puck possession.

Both of those things have been missing so far this season, and both have cost the Blackhawks.

Patrick Kane scored his second goal of the season but Kris Versteeg had the shootout winner as the Calgary Flames beat the Blackhawks 3-2 on Monday night. The Blackhawks are now 3-3-1 on the season as they keep trying to find more consistency in their game.

Gustav Forsling suffered an upper-body injury in the second period when he was hit by Lance Bouma on the glass between the team benches. Coach Joel Quenneville said the defenseman is day-to-day.

Corey Crawford stopped 29 of 31 shots in the loss. Despite the two power-play goals tonight, Crawford was good. He’s allowed just three 5-on-5 goals on the season.

But that penalty kill did hurt once again, as the Blackhawks allowed the Flames two power-play goals. While they killed the final three penalties they took, including a Tyler Motte double-minor high-sticking, the damage had been done. The Flames power play entering the game was just 1-for-25.

“It just seems no matter what it finds a way, a different way, every time,” Quenneville said. “We had a couple big kills in the second period and that was positive, built off it, had a good third period and found a way to get a point. Could have had two.”

The Blackhawks didn’t look great at the start of this one, something that’s becoming a trend with them. Couple that with that penalty kill – they gave up both power-play goals 39 seconds into each kill – and it was no surprise the Blackhawks were down 1-0 after the first.

“We’ve got to get that out of our game,” Jonathan Toews said of the slow first period. “As I’ve been saying, the penalty kill usually translates from our effort 5-on-5 and if we’re not starting games well, then we’re getting behind. Obviously [we’re] giving up power plays to begin with and we’re not killing the penalty kills that we’re on. Unfortunate to get behind again tonight.”

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Brian Campbell got his first goal of the season when his shot (or pass) went off Calgary defenseman TJ Brodie’s stick. Richard Panik nearly had the game winner in the waning seconds of regulation but Brian Elliott, who was also great tonight, knocked the puck off his right skate.

The Blackhawks also had a 4-on-3 power play in overtime on which they couldn’t capitalize.

“You can talk about the penalty kill tonight but we’ve had a couple 4-on-3 chances in overtime the past couple games where our power play needs to be better,” Kane said. “We need to capitalize in those situations.”The Blackhawks are struggling with parts of their game that used to be familiar and successful. There’s plenty of time left in the season but they need to find their well-rounded game again.

“We can be play better, collectively, as a group as far as dictating the pace of games and controlling the puck, getting pucks back. That's really the key with hockey is winning those battles, controlling the puck,” Kane said. “We're so used to playing a puck-possession game. That's really something we've been getting away from here. It's early on in the season, so it's something to build on.”