Hawks doubled up in Edmonton

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Hawks doubled up in Edmonton

EDMONTON, Alberta The Blackhawks talked Wednesday and Thursday morning about getting even against the Oilers up here. They heard the chants of Lets get 10 during their 9-2 loss here in November and didnt like it.

But for all the talk before the game, not much changed during it.

Corey Crawford was pulled in the third period and Sam Gagner tied a franchise record with eight points as the Chicago Blackhawks fell to the Edmonton Oilers 8-4 at Rexall Place. The Blackhawks are now 0-3-1 in their last four, as they failed to gain any ground in the ultra-competitive Western Conference.

Gagner was just part of the problem for the Blackhawks, who were once again victimized by the Oilers. Crawford allowed a few bad ones, including a Cam Barker goal, before he was pulled. Ray Emery didnt fare much better, allowing three on 13 shots. It was another night where team defense disintegrated against an Oilers team all too anxious to take advantage.

Forget about payback, forget about all that stuff. It doesnt matter how we win the game; we just didnt do the right things at all, Jonathan Toews said. Again, it was an easy game for tier top players. We let them do whatever they wanted, tap-ins left and right and we hung our goaltenders out to dry.

Patrick Sharp, who scored two goals for the Blackhawks, concurred.

Yeah, forget payback and all that stuff, he said. We wanted to come out and play a good game and talked all season long what makes us a good team is playing a defense-first, check-first mentality. Thats how we create scoring chances. We did that to start the game but somewhere along the line we got away from it.

Crawford, coming off a strong game in Vancouver on Tuesday night, bore much of the onus for this one.

Our guys deserved better than me, he said. I dont know what happened. Its frustrating. Everyone here is pissed off.

His first goal, to Taylor Hall, wasnt a good one to give up. The Blackhawks were up 2-0 at the time and had much of the momentum.

We did some good things until they scored the first goal and then we got out of what we wanted to do, coach Joel Quenneville said. They like to score, they like to go off the rush, they like to attack and we cant play that way. We have to be more patient. They played run and gun and they were better than us by a long margin.

The ripple effect was evident. Team defense broke down and the Blackhawks didnt help themselves by continually going to the penalty box -- Edmonton had seven power plays, scoring on one.

We have to play together. We have to play all along the same page. When we start thinking about trying to outscore teams it backfires, said Duncan Keith. Good teams, when they lose games theyre in every game. We were in this one (early), but once we get up a goal or two we start forgetting how to play.

The Blackhawks have talked about playing a team game all season. When they do, theyre tough to beat. And at this time of the season especially, they need that again.

Marcus Kruger 'pretty close' to returning for Blackhawks

Marcus Kruger 'pretty close' to returning for Blackhawks

Marcus Kruger has been sidelined a little longer than the originally expected three weeks with his right hand injury. Not that any missed time is enjoyable.

"I wanted to get back there probably a few weeks ago but unfortunately I couldn't," said Kruger, who suffered his injury on Dec. 30 against the Carolina Hurricanes. "I tried to listen to the doctors and do everything I can instead to be ready when I get cleared. That's my mindset."

Kruger is close, but not quite there, as the Blackhawks prepared for Sunday night's game against the Vancouver Canucks. Kruger skated with his teammates for the first time since being injured but wasn't among the line rushes. The center took faceoffs on his own at the end of practice. Kruger pronounced himself, "pretty close," to returning. Coach Joel Quenneville said the Blackhawks will see how Kruger is over the next few days. The Blackhawks play again Tuesday and Thursday before heading into the All-Star break this weekend.

The Blackhawks have missed Kruger's versatility and especially his play on the penalty kill. The Blackhawks' kill has been fine through Kruger's absence but he nevertheless is a big part of it when he's healthy.

"We have a lot of options and when he's out everyone gets a more important role, whether starting or faceoffs. And we have a rotation of five guys who are in there most of the time. But he definitely absorbs the most responsibility when he's playing in that area," Quenneville said of Kruger. "So it's nice you get to try some other guys and you get deeper as you go along."

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

One of the players who's emerged in Kruger's absence is Tanner Kero, who filled his third-line center void. Kero and linemates Vinnie Hinostroza and Marian Hossa clicked on the dads trip, coming up with big plays and points in the Blackhawks' victories over Colorado and Boston. As of now, Kero appears to have the hold on third-line center.

"I don't see too many things that would change his positioning because he really helped himself," Quenneville said.

Kruger said he's fine if that means returning to fourth-line center duties. Regardless, he'll help bolster the Blackhawks' forward lines. The last step is likely contact, which Kruger got a little of – outside of faceoffs – in Sunday's skate. Kruger's had to wait a little longer than expected on his injury but he's getting there.

“Obviously [I want to] get back and playing the same way,” Kruger said. “First I want to get healthy and then get back playing my best and do everything I can for the team.”

Blackhawks updates: Why Joel Quenneville is starting Corey Crawford vs. Canucks

Blackhawks updates: Why Joel Quenneville is starting Corey Crawford vs. Canucks

Corey Crawford will start but Marcus Kruger won't play yet when the Blackhawks host the Vancouver Canucks on Sunday night.

Scott Darling is coming off a 30-stop shutout in the Blackhawks' 1-0 victory over Boston on Friday night. Coach Joel Quenneville said there was some consideration given to start Darling in this one, too, but, "at the same time we want Crow playing as much as he can to get back to the great pace he had prior to being away."

"He hasn't been bad. But certainly that's what we're looking for him to get back to," Quenneville said on Crawford. "I like giving Darls some consideration. We'll see but [Darling] certainly enhanced his positioning."

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

Meanwhile, Marcus Kruger skated with the Blackhawks for the first time since hurting his hand against the Carolina Hurricanes on Dec. 30. He took faceoffs on his own at the end of practice but was not among the line rushes. Quenneville said the Blackhawks will see how Kruger is for either Tuesday or Thursday but, "knowing we have that [All-Star] break, we'll see how he feels and what our options are."

Kruger said he felt, "pretty close."

"I tried to take it day by day and prepare to play," Kruger said. "Obviously not tonight, but the next game we will see." 

BLACKHAWKS VS. VANCOUVER CANUCKS
6:30 p.m.
TV: WGN
Radio: WGN 720 AM

Chicago Blackhawks
Forward lines

Ryan Hartman-Jonathan Toews-Richard Panik
Artemi Panarin-Artem Anisimov-Patrick Kane
Vinnie Hinostroza-Tanner Kero-Marian Hossa
Andrew Desjardins-Dennis Rasmussen-Nick Schmaltz

Defensive pairs
Duncan Keith-Niklas Hjalmarsson
Michal Kempny-Brent Seabrook
Brian Campbell-Trevor van Riemsdyk

Goaltender
Corey Crawford

INJURIES/ILLNESS: Marcus Kruger (right arm).

Vancouver Canucks (via Canucks)
Forward lines

Daniel Sedin-Henrik Sedin-Loui Eriksson
Sven Baertschi-Bo Horvat-Alex Burrows
Markus Granlund-Brandon Sutter-Jayson Megna
Brendan Gaunce-Michael Chaput-Jack Skille

Defensive Pairs
Alex Edler-Troy Stecher
Luca Sbisa-Chris Tanev
Alex Biega-Nikita Tryamkin

Goaltender
Ryan Miller

INJURIES/ILLNESS: Anton Rodin (knee), Ben Hutton (hand), Jannik Hansen (knee), Erik Gudbranson (wrist), Philip Larsen (upper body), Derek Dorsett (back).