Blackhawks' Marcus Kruger practices, hopes to return soon


Blackhawks' Marcus Kruger practices, hopes to return soon

Marcus Kruger had a smile on his face when he greeted the media following Sunday’s practice.

Maybe it’s because he’s practicing with his teammates again. Maybe it’s due to getting that three-year deal he signed last week. Or maybe it’s because his long injury hiatus is finally nearing its end.

“Yeah, I’m not going to lie. It’s been tough,” said Kruger, who’s been out since mid-December with a wrist injury. “Some days have been worse than others. I’ve been trying to take it day by day and do everything I can do to get back as soon as possible. It’s been a long time, so I’m pretty excited to be out there with the boys again.”

[MORE: Teuvo Teravainen feeling more like himself at center]

Kruger is still not taking contact, as evidence by him avoiding battle drills on Sunday. But he could still return on the team’s four-game road trip at the end of this month, which is good news for him and the Blackhawks.

“I would think in and around that time, whether it’s during it or the end of it, for sure, we’re thinking,” Quenneville said. “Getting him into practice was a big step for us and as soon as we get the clearance for contact, we’ll get a better idea when he’ll be close to playing.”

Just getting back with teammates was a thrill for Kruger, who’s been skating on his own – or with Marian Hossa when Hossa was healing from his lower-body injury – for a few weeks now. Teammates were happy to see him back on Sunday.

“It’s great for him. Obviously we’re happy to see him rewarded with the recent signing as well, so he’s been working hard,” Jonathan Toews said. “It’s an unfortunate situation for him to have to go through that but we know that he’s going to take advantage of that rest and come back stronger than he was before. So we’re looking forward to having that depth at center. We’ve got some guys that have done a great job filling in for that role. You look at Razzy [Dennis Rasmussen], when Phil Danault was here. Shawzy’s [Andrew Shaw] been playing well and we know he can be relied upon in that situation. But obviously when we get Krugs back, it’ll help a lot.”

It should also help the penalty kill, which has struggled lately. For Kruger, it’s just about returning in every capacity he can. It’s been a long four months but March has been kinder to him: not only is he getting healthier but he signed a three-year deal worth just over $9 million last week. Kruger, who had to be patient last summer when the cash-strapped Blackhawks couldn’t give him the raise and term they wanted to at the time, was happy with the end result.

“I hoped it would happen this summer. It didn’t but I tried to be patient and I’m thankful they signed me here, even though I was injured and didn’t play my best hockey before that,” said Kruger. “So really thankful for that.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans]

Kruger was also sporting his new number, 22, during Sunday’s practice. The center returned Andrew Ladd’s old number to him when Ladd was traded here earlier this month – “I mean, Ladder’s been here before and I think the number means a lot to him, so it was nothing big,” Kruger said. But Kruger is holding onto No. 22, despite that being the old number of Dale Weise, another trade-deadline acquisition.

“I couldn’t do it twice,” Kruger said to laughs. “That’s a little bit too much.”

Kruger’s a much happier guy these days. He got the longer deal he hoped for last summer and is close to returning. It’s been a long wait for Kruger – for both of those things.

“When I found out I was going to be out for a long period I was surprised. But I moved my focus on trying to get back quicker than I thought I could,” he said. “It was tough getting to know that I was going to be out for an extended period. It’s been a long, long journey and hopefully I’m getting closer now.”

Blackhawks edge out Senators in shootout: 'It was really nice to get a win'

Blackhawks edge out Senators in shootout: 'It was really nice to get a win'

It was a rare sight to see the Blackhawks in a shootout on Wednesday night.

It was just the second time this season — and first time at the United Center — that the Blackhawks made it past 3-on-3 overtime. 

The last came on Dec. 2, 2017, a 3-2 shootout loss to the Stars in Dallas. On Wednesday night, the Blackhawks were on the other end, beating the Ottawa Senators 3-2 in a seven-round shootout. Nick Schmaltz netted the game-winner.

"We'll take it," coach Joel Quenneville said. "I thought we had a decent game tonight. Overtime not so good, I liked the shootout victory, Fors made some big saves for us particularly as the game got deeper. Our third was OK, I thought our first two were way better, and overtime we gave up some high quality, some bells were rings for a bit there. But it was nice to see the shootout win."

Patrick Kane had a goal and an assist, recording another multi-point game, his 16th of the season.

"I mean we need every point we can get at this point," Kane said. "There's still belief in this locker room. Obviously we need to go on quite a run and have a big record here down the stretch. But take it a game at a time and nice to get two points."

Anton Forsberg was a big reason the Blackhawks even recorded those two points. The 25-year-old netminder stopped 34 of 36 shots and made a handful of big saves down the stretch.

"It was really nice to get a win for sure," Forsberg said. "I would love to have a lot more wins, but right now just gotta look forward and get as many wins as possible."

Added Quenneville: "I think it was good for him to win a game the way he did. Lot of shots were on the line, as we progressed, got deeper, hitting the point first was big for him and for us and then finding a way to get the extra one was a good win."

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Senators

NBC Sports Chicago

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Senators

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Ottawa Senators tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. Trade chips.

The Blackhawks have reached the point in their season where they have no choice but to become sellers before the Feb. 26 deadline, and we saw that when they traded Michal Kempny to the Washington Capitals on Monday for a conditional third-round pick in 2018. Tommy Wingels could also be an attractive piece for a team looking to fill out their depth.

The Senators will definitely be sellers, and wow do they have some names potentially on the market that can fetch large returns: Derrick Brassard and Mike Hoffman are two players who log top-six minutes on a nightly basis and also have term left on their contract, which is great for teams looking to load up for this year and beyond.

The biggest name to watch, probably in the league altogether, is Erik Karlsson, who could be on the move if a team offers a big enough package for the Senators to pull the trigger now as opposed to in the offseason if they feel him re-signing is a long shot. He was the best defenseman last season, and if a team steps up to get him, they're getting two possible postseason runs out of him.

2. Artem Anisimov's experiment at left wing not working.

Joel Quenneville has tried rekindling the magic between Anisimov, Nick Schmaltz and Patrick Kane as of late, only this time Anisimov is playing the wing and it just hasn't been very effective. The trio was on the ice for each of the two 5-on-5 goals the Kings scored on Monday, and Anisimov completely lost his man on the first one.

It's important to establish a consistent left winger for Schmaltz and Kane, and maybe putting Alex DeBrincat up there is something you consider going forward as part of a long-term solution. Move Anisimov back down as the third-line center to play in more of a defensive role and continue using his big body on power plays for his offensive abilities might be the best bet.

3. Win the special teams battle.

In their last meeting against Ottawa on Jan. 9, the Blackhawks went 4-for-6 on the power play and 4-on-4 on the penalty kill in an 8-2 win. And those are two areas to look out for again.

The Senators own the 28th-ranked power play with a 16.1 percent success rate and 29th-ranked penalty kill with a 74.5 percent success rate. Get ready for another offensive outburst?