Kruger earns shot as second-line center

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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.

HawksTalk Podcast: What's the cause of recent struggles?

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USA TODAY

HawksTalk Podcast: What's the cause of recent struggles?

On the latest Hawks Talk Podcast, Pat Boyle and Steve Konroyd discuss the latest slump and how much does Artem Anisimov's injury play a role in their struggles?

Konroyd tells us he was surprised by Ryan Hartman's benching in Tampa.

The guys play the game, playoff minutes or press box minutes?  They run through the players who are on the bubble when it comes to postseason play.

They also discuss the Hawks chances of overtaking Washington for the President's trophy.

Plus, Konroyd breaks down possible first round opponents: St Louis, Calgary and Nashville.

Tanner Kero latest to try and fill Artem Anisimov's skates

Tanner Kero latest to try and fill Artem Anisimov's skates

PITTSBURGH – Tanner Kero's been thrown into a lot of different situations in his time with the Blackhawks, be it third- or fourth-line center or penalty kill.

But with Artem Anisimov out, the second-line center spot has become new top-line, left-wing spot: The Blackhawks will keep trying guys out until they find one that works. Kero's the latest to get that opportunity, and since it worked well on Monday, he'll be there again on Wednesday.

Kero will center Artemi Panarin and Patrick Kane again when the Blackhawks host the Pittsburgh Penguins. The line had a good start to Monday's game against the Lightning in Tampa, scoring the team's first two goals — Kero assisted on Panarin's opener.

Coach Joel Quenneville liked Kero's first go-around there.

"Defensively he's in a good spot — he's usually in a reliable spot in his own end — he made a couple of nice plays offensively and didn't change his game too much," Quenneville said. "It's not easy playing with guys at that next level. It's certainly a great challenge and a great opportunity, so I thought he did a great job, took advantage of it. We'll see how he does going forward but we'll keep him in there for [Wednesday's] game and that gives us some more options."

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Learning on the fly can be part of a rookie season, especially when injuries arise. Jonathan Toews said Kero's handled everything well this season.

"Come to think of it, it's one of those little things that maybe goes over my head but he's definitely one of those versatile players who's as consistent as ever," Toews said. "He has, for his age, an incredible level of maturity and he carries that with him wherever he goes. You're seeing offensive improvement, too. He was making some good plays with Bread Man and Kaner. He's showing he can do it all and I think his work ethic and attitude's a source of that success."

Earlier this season Kero was with guys like Ryan Hartman and Vinnie Hinostroza. They were all familiar with each other from their Rockford days, and that showed. Playing with two guys you don't know so well? It's a bit of a challenge, and one the three talk out. But ultimately, Kero said you have to rely on your instincts. 

"You go over things before the game and on the bench, get a feel for what you might want to do. But then you just have to play hockey," Kero said. "You have to trust your game, make plays. You know they're going to make plays with the puck so you try to use your speed and get open and try to go to the net, create space for them and a little traffic in front and try to capitalize on opportunities."

Anisimov will be out another 1-2 weeks. Asked if Anisimov has started skating back in Chicago yet, Quenneville said, "I don't think so but I'm not positive. But he's progressing." Filling Anisimov's skates isn't easy, as evidenced by the Blackhawks' search for his temporary replacement. Kero is the third guy to get that shot, and he took advantage of his first showing.

"Obviously it's a great opportunity to play with two great players," Kero said. "You just try to do everything you can and do the little things right."

Briefly

- Marian Hossa and Duncan Keith didn't practice on Tuesday but both are expected to play against the Penguins.

- Corey Crawford gets the start against Pittsburgh.

- Hartman, scratched after a rough game against the Florida Panthers, is probably back in against the Penguins.