Johnson returns to Fire, but won't play Sunday

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Johnson returns to Fire, but won't play Sunday

The Fires 1-0-1 record after two games is the same as last years at the same point in the season, but one thing is certainly different: the Fire has much more depth in Frank Klopas first full season as head coach than it did when Carlos de los Cobos was in charge for the dismal start to the 2011 campaign.

Why else would Klopas hold out his top goalkeeper and most experienced defender for the third league match of the season?

Sean Johnson, who finished up a tour of duty with the U.S. under-23 team in the Olympic qualifying tournament on Monday in Nashville, has rejoined his club team and Arne Friedrich, a veteran of Germanys World Cup squads, went through Thursdays training session as well.

Neither, though, are expected to play in Sundays Major League Soccer road match against the Colorado Rapids. Klopas doesnt feel either are ready, though he didnt flat rule out Johnson.

While Johnson is widely recognized as one of the best young goalkeepers in the U.S. and spent a fruitful offseason experience-wise, he hasnt had much match time lately. That can be corrected in the next two weeks.

Johnson, 22, had seven shutouts in 28 matches last season. His play on a teams that struggled for 44 games over two seasons under de los Cobos but finished 2011 strong under Klopas, earned him some extra opportunities. Johnson earned his first cap with the U.S. national team, playing the second half of a 1-1 draw against Chile in January, 2011.

After the '11 MLS season he was invited to 12 days of training with Everton of the English Premier League, where he worked with U.S. national team mainstay Tim Howard. Johnson then joined the U.S. under-23s for their failed bid to qualify for the Olympics. Those opportunities caused Johnson to miss much of preseason training and the Fires first two MLS matches.

The Olympic experience was all good.

Bill Hamid, the D.C. United goalkeeper, earned the nod over Johnson when U.S. under-23 coach Caleb Porter lined up his squad for the Olympic qualifying tournament. Hamid was in goal for a 6-0 win over Cuba and a 2-0 loss to Canada, the U.S. teams first loss to the neighbors to the north in 20 years. He also allowed two goals before leaving the third match of group play against El Salvador on Monday.

The U.S. needed to protect a 3-2 lead, and Johnson came in and made some saves after entering the match in the 39th minute. A win would send the U.S. into the semifinals, while El Salvador needed only a draw to advance. The Salvadorans got it when Johnson got his hand on a bouncing shot in the final seconds of stoppage time but couldnt keep the ball from trickling into the net.

"Obviously it was a disappointing result but, results aside, training with those guys -- the best of the best -- was great," said Johnson. "With Everton, it was different. Theyre in the top league in the world, and their practice facilities in Liverpool are massive. Everything was first class, and it was a valuable experience seeing how they operate over there."

Playing in Europe as well as performing in an Olympic atmosphere delayed, but didnt spoil, Johnson for the start of his third season with the Fire.

"It was a busy offseason, and now its time to take that into whats going on now," he said. "Chicagos my home, and all that (offseason stuff) was great, but now its time to look forward and get on with the season."

Because of his lack of match time Klopas is expected to delay Johnsons return to the Fire lineup until April 15, when the Houston Dynamo come to Toyota Park. Thats when Friedrich will likely make his Fire debut as well.

"This is a team, and weve got to manage all these difference personalities," said Klopas. "Its a tough decision, managing whos on the field, but weve got to deal with those situations."

Johnson wants to play right away.

"Im ready to go. Its just a matter of the coachs decision, whether its this game or later on," said Johnson.

Klopas is also influenced by what went on while Johnson was away. Paolo Tornaghi, a 23-year old Italian, played well in the first two games and apparently will get a third straight start. Plus, the more experienced Jay Nolly, earned a shutout in the first reserve team match of the season and hes available, too. The three keepers provide the Fire with the most solid netminding in the franchises 15-year history.

"Seans No. 1, but we brought in Jay because hes a veteran, experienced guy and we knew there was a possibility of Sean being away with Olympic qualifying," said Klopas. "Its been a healthy competition, and thats one thing we wanted to create -- depth at every position."

Therell be some reserve team matches, plus a friendly with a minor league club from Louisville, before Houston becomes the fourth MLS opponent, so Johnson can get some live matches under his belt before returning to the MLS wars.

Thats the thinking with defender Friedrich, too, though an injury to right back Dan Gargan could impact on Fredreichs immediate impact on the Fire. Gargan jogged during Thursdays training session and his availability might be a game-time decision at Colorado. At any rate, Klopas prefers to wait on Friedrich until his fitness has improved. He doesnt want any injuries that might be avoided through cautious coaching.

"With him its just fitness, and hes getting better with that each day," said Klopas. "After (Sundays game) weve got a break, and weve got to be smart and careful. Its a long season."

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Quick Hits from Blackhawks-Coyotes: Nick Schmaltz shines on 21st birthday

The Blackhawks were finally getting healthy and now may be missing a key player once again. That depends on how Niklas Hjalmarsson feels after suffering an upper-body injury against the Arizona Coyotes on Thursday night.

It was certainly the toughest part of the Blackhawks' victory, a 6-3 triumph that has the Blackhawks closing in on the Wild. We'll see what the Hjalmarsson update is over the weekend. Until then, let's look at the notables from this one.

What Worked: The offense. We'll give an honorable mention to the penalty kill, which snuffed out all of the Coyotes' chances including a double minor that overlapped the second and third periods. But the offense was just buzzing again. Here's another shocker: the top line is still working just fine. The trio got things started with Nick Schmaltz's goal just 37 seconds into the game (Jonathan Toews and Richard Panik assisted). And much like in their meeting with the Coyotes earlier this month, the Blackhawks needed just about every bit of that offense. While we're on this topic...

What Didn't Work: The first-period defense. The Blackhawks looked like they were in good shape up 3-1 but then they gave up two goals within a minute late in the period. Michal Rozsival had a rough start in his first game since Jan. 15, but overall, the Blackhawks' defense through that first period looked discombobulated. Obviously, it didn't help that the Blackhawks lost Hjalmarsson during the first, either.

[RELATED: Patrick Kane nets hat trick as Blackhawks cruise past Coyotes]

Star of the game: Patrick Kane. One game after Jonathan Toews recorded a hat trick Kane did the same, scoring his 21st, 22nd and 23rd goals of the season. On a night in which the Blackhawks dressed 11 forwards and seven defensemen, Kane got a little extra playing time. His first goal came on a first-period shift with Ryan Hartman and Tanner Kero, the second off a long pass from Brent Seabrook and the third with his usual line mates.

He Said It: "I didn't play much before I got hurt, then I missed four weeks with my injury. It wasn't easy but definitely the way the team's playing now, it made it easier for me. It felt like the first game of the season for me but glad we got the victory and glad I was back playing. I enjoyed it." — Michal Rozsival on returning to the Blackhawks' lineup. 

By the Numbers: 

6 – Number of times, in their last eight games, the Blackhawks have scored five or more goals.

342 – Assists for Jonathan Toews, who tied Dennis Hull for 12th all-time in franchise history in that category.

35 – Combined points for the Blackhawks' top liners Jonathan Toews, Nick Schmaltz and Richard Panik in their nine games together. The breakdown in those nine games: Toews has 16 points, Panik 10 and Schmaltz nine.

1997 – The last time the Blackhawks had hat tricks in back-to-back regular-season games. Alexei Zhamnov and Eric Daze had them on April 11 and April 13, 1997, respectively.