Line changes: Kane back at right wing

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Line changes: Kane back at right wing

Patrick Kane said earlier this season he felt more comfortable on right wing. On Thursday, he was back there.

Kane was at wing again with Jonathan Toews and Viktor Stalberg as the Chicago Blackhawks prepped for the New York Islanders. It was one of several line changes for the Blackhawks, who also had Marcus Kruger centering the second line with Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa

For Kane, its a change thats not really a change. He feels better there, and it never hurts to reunite with Toews, either.

Weve played together a lot and theres chemistry. Whenever were put together, it raises the excitement, Kane said. Im sure itll take some shifts to get used to it again but Im excited about the opportunity. Whenever you play with Johnny, Sharpie or Hossa, youre going to be excited about it.

Kane proved he could play the center position just fine through the first two months of the season, and his line with Hossa and Daniel Carcillo thrived through October. But as November continued, that lines production quieted. Kane has just three assists over his last six games.

I proved I could play there. But I got on the road and got on a long trip and things didnt click for me, personally, at that position. They thought my game was fine there, I didnt, Kane said. Im excited to be back at the wing, playing the game that I know and developed for a long time. Its not going to come back right away; it may be a couple shifts or periods maybe. But Ill get familiar with it.

Dont be surprised if it doesnt click right away, however. Kane and Toews just have that chemistry together and its likely to come back together again soon. Toews feels it, too.

The good thing about playing with Kaner is sometimes you can just get away from the puck and get away from all the attention on the ice and sneak back door and hide sometimes, Toews said. He can hold onto it, get his head up and back opponents up and buy some time. Its nice to play with a guy like that.

Things were getting stagnant, so coach Joel Quenneville is making changes to try and re-invigorate that offense again. Kane proved he can play center with no problem, and he could go back there again this season. He just does right wing better.

Everybodys had stretches where theyve been at top end of their game and producing at rate theyre accustomed to; theyve all had stretches where it hasnt come. When you move them around a little bit, sometimes it comes out and all of a sudden theyre more confident in scoring area and get back to where we expect them to be, Quenneville said. Both lines should be able to score and produce regularly. We have a lot of options. This is one we havent explored yet. Its one well try.

Briefly

Jonathan Toews was named the NHLs No. 2 star for the month of November. Toews finished November with nine goals and 18 assists. He had a career-high five points in the Blackhawks 6-5 victory over the Anaheim Ducks on Friday.

Defensemen Brent Seabrook and Steve Montador also took maintenance day on Thursday. Theyre both expected to play Friday night. Corey Crawford will start against the Islanders.

Johnny Oduya feeling better, more up to speed with Blackhawks

Johnny Oduya feeling better, more up to speed with Blackhawks

Perhaps the best thing about the Johnny Oduya trade back to the Blackhawks, for both parties involved, was that Oduya wasn't needed immediately.

It's not that the Blackhawks didn't want the veteran defenseman, who helped them win Cups in 2013 and 2015, back in the lineup as soon as possible. Oduya was coming off an ankle injury, one he re-aggravated and missed about a month when he was with the Dallas Stars. He needed time to fully heal and with the Blackhawks in good shape in the standings and with solid depth at defense, he could.

Now with the playoffs right around the corner, Oduya is feeling more like himself.

Outside of missing two games that were the second halves of back-to-backs, Oduya has been playing steadily since March 9. Oduya's minutes have ranged from around 16 to 21 in games. He said he's now 100 percent healthy from his injury and he's feeling the difference on the ice.

"It makes a big difference," Oduya said on Thursday, prior to facing the Stars for the first time since his trade back to Chicago. "I mean, obviously sometimes you get more or less lucky, depending on what you get and the style of play and what you do or not. Skating is a part of my game I try to use as much as possible to get in good position and try to take away time from the opposition as much as possible.

"Even with battling and things like that, of course it's nice to feel more confident," Oduya added. "In any situation, you're in you want to feel confident on the ice."

The Blackhawks have seen that confidence in previous postseason runs and are looking to see it again in Oduya. Coach Joel Quenneville considers Oduya, "Mr. Reliability."

"You look back at what he delivered for us, not just the regular season, but he's been solid and reliable in the playoffs. He's assumed some important matchups and important minutes," Quenneville said. "Last year, we didn't have him on the back end and watching him this year, it was the perfect fit him coming back."

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The Blackhawks' defensive group hasn't changed much since Oduya's first stint here. The system probably hasn't been altered much, either. Still, Oduya's not taking anything for granted and is trying to get back on the same page quickly.

"Same as the last time I came into a great hockey team and I really just want to get up to speed and up to date as quickly as possible," Oduya said. "Little things that may have changed. I want to fit in as well as I can. That's the idea anyone has coming in late in the year. The guys here make it pretty easy; the coaching staff is familiar with the way I play and helps speed up things a little more."

The Blackhawks are trying to be their best heading into the postseason. So is Oduya. He needed a little extra time to get back to health and he may still need a little time to get back to speed, but he's just about there. 

"I feel pretty good. Of course it's a lot easier when you have guys around you you've seen before, a coaching staff," Oduya said. "It's a work in progress, anyway. I want to be better, I want to evolve with the team and want us to be better, too. It's a work in progress."

Quick Hits from Blackhawks-Stars: Another slow start but better finish

Quick Hits from Blackhawks-Stars: Another slow start but better finish

It wasn't pretty, but the Blackhawks found a way to pick up another two points and improved to 6-0-1 over their last seven games, and 18-3-1 over their last 22.

With Minnesota's loss to Philadelphia, the Blackhawks have taken an eight-point lead for first in the Central Division and are only two points away from the Washington Capitals for home-ice advantage throughout the entire Stanley Cup playoffs.

Let's take a look at Quick Hits from the 3-2 shootout victory over the Dallas Stars on Thursday night:

What Worked: The finish and shootout. While the Blackhawks scored the game's first goal, it was another slow start by a team that has had a few of those over the last several outings and has preached working on turning in more of a complete effort. They recorded only 14 shots on goal in the first two periods, and it took more than six minutes after Patrick Kane's goal to record their next one.

But they finished on a positive note yet again, and went 2-for-3 in the shootout thanks to Kane and Artemi Panarin, who potted the game winner. Kane said after the game that he tried his move on Scott Darling during morning skate and it worked. So he went with it tonight in an effort to snap a mini shootout drought and he did.

What Didn't Work: Controlling the puck. The Blackhawks seemingly have the puck more than their opponent does almost every game, but it doesn't reflect in the shot department because they often look for the perfect pass or shot and fail to record one at all. They had 50 shot attempts with 26 of them on goal compared to the Stars' 64 attempts with 44 on goal. They know they must get better at that.

Star of the game: Corey Crawford. After allowing four goals on only 10 shots in Tuesday's overtime loss to Vancouver, the Blackhawks netminder bounced back in a huge way. He matched a season-high with 42 saves, and recorded his 30th win of the season.

He Said It: "He played amazing tonight. Reason we won the game. Hats off to him, he's done that a lot this year. For a goalie it's probably tough to show up every night, even the goals he let in last game you can't put all the blame on him, but he was outstanding tonight." — Kane on Crawford's performance

By the Numbers:

167 — Niklas Hjalmarsson blocked one shot in the win, and it was enough to set a new career high in that department, previously established during the 2010-11 campaign (166).

15 — Trevor van Riemsyk assisted on Marian Hossa's goal in the third period, giving him a career-high 15 points on the season in 50 games. He had 14 points in 82 games last year. He also extended his point streak to three games.

6 — With the victory, Crawford has earned at least 30 wins in six of his seven NHL seasons as a full-time starter. The only time he didn't reach that mark was during the lockout-shortened year in 2012-13 when he went 19-5-5.