Hawks' health improves as Hossa, Handzus return to lineup

Hawks' health improves as Hossa, Handzus return to lineup
November 26, 2013, 6:45 pm
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CALGARY, Alberta – Mike Kostka came off the Corral ice, walking to the Saddledome locker room on two healthy feet after one had been in a walking boot for a few weeks. He’s not playing yet but he’s close.

Marian Hossa came back last Thursday after his lower-body injury. Michal Handzus returned on Monday after missing 14 games with an upper-body injury.

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One by one, the Blackhawks are getting healthier. Save Bryan Bickell, who was ruled out for the next two to three weeks with a leg injury and backup Nikolai Khabibulin (lower body) the Blackhawks are getting able bodies back into the lineup. For coach Joel Quenneville, the improved health brings opportunities to tinker if need be.

“It’s good because you have ideas of what you want to do with your lines,” he said. “We want to try to look at some combinations here over the net couple of games and see how it plays out. There are a lot of options there.”

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Quenneville started looking at those options at Tuesday’s practice. The top line was back to its usual look, with Patrick Sharp, Jonathan Toews and Hossa together again. Handzus was back at second-line center, where he finished the Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup run, flanked by Brandon Saad and Patrick Kane. Brandon Pirri centered the third line with Kris Versteeg and Andrew Shaw on the left and right, respectively.

But it’s about more than potential line combinations; it’s about depth. The Blackhawks were tapping into theirs quite a bit these past few weeks, dipping into Rockford, putting players on long-term injured reserve to get Versteeg back from Florida. Now, injuries are healing and depth is improving.

“It’s great, getting everyone back,” Hossa said. “I think the team did real well without some players, and that’s a great sign. We’ve got a lot of guys back, and that’s even better.”

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The Blackhawks did play well with all the injuries, roster moves and line alterations. Entering Tuesday night’s lone game between Anaheim and Dallas, the Blackhawks were atop the Western Conference (17-4-4, 38 points).

Injuries forced the Blackhawks to alter some things. It didn’t alter their course through the early season much. Now they’re getting healthy again, and the line/depth possibilities abound.