Kruger finding his groove for Hawks


Kruger finding his groove for Hawks

VANCOUVER, British Columbia Marcus Kruger had his motivation.

The Blackhawks center had a slow start to training camp before improving toward the end, and he was briefly sent to Rockford early in the regular season. His assignment was based on roster numbers and not his performance. But when he was recalled, Kruger nevertheless used it to fuel his game.

I wanted to show that I can be an NHL player, he said recently.

And he is.

Kruger has been a solid checking-line center in Dave Bollands absence, as the young forward continues to hone his North American game with the Blackhawks. Kruger came to Chicago late last season and adjusted quickly to the different ice surface and Blackhawks system.

The fourth-line center moved up a line when Bolland suffered a right-foot injury last week and coach Joel Quenneville said you have to commend Kruger for doing a nice job there.

And if that quick trip to Rockford was a boost, so be it.

It wasnt our intention to get his attention (with that), but you certainly like his response to the immediate call back up and how hes played since that day, Quenneville said. In Game 7 (against Vancouver), he was arguably one of our top players that night here. We had him being a big part of our team coming in, had a slow camp, but at the end of the day hes where he belongs and hes useful in a lot of ways.

His ability to adapt did help make him an easy fit on that checking line with Bryan Bickell and Michael Frolik. The three have done just fine together in these last three games, and Kruger said he sticks to the same mindset no matter his partners.

Its pretty much the same, just try to give them the puck on the tape all the time and go from there, and of course be aware of whos on the other team, he said. But you cant worry about the other team too much. You just go out there and play your game.

And Kruger doesnt mind the added defensive responsibility out there. Its something hell especially have to be mindful against Vancouver on Wednesday if Bolland cant go.

Its more, of course, but you cant think too much when youre out there. You have to go with your instincts, he said. Thats what were trying to do.

Kruger has given the Blackhawks a viable center option among their lines. Oh, and he can go on the power play, too. The Blackhawks saw the potential in Kruger when they selected him in 2009. Hes tapping into it now.

We saw him early in camp there and thought it was a matter of time, Quenneville said. Theres more to his game than how he plays defensively. His anticipation offensively is in the right spots, and he should keep improving his game.

Alex DeBrincat records third career hat trick, but Blackhawks lose to Blues in overtime

Alex DeBrincat records third career hat trick, but Blackhawks lose to Blues in overtime

For Alex DeBrincat, it was probably nice to hear Chelsea Dagger again.

But how about three times?

The 20-year-old rookie snapped out of a 13-game scoring drought in a big way on Sunday night, recording his third hat trick of the season. DeBrincat did all he could to help give the Blackhawks two points, but they only came away with one in a 5-4 overtime loss to the St. Louis Blues.

DeBrincat is now the first rookie in franchise history with three hat tricks in the same season, passing Steve Larmer. His last two hat tricks came against the Anaheim Ducks on Nov. 27, 2017 and Detroit Red Wings on Jan. 25.

"It's pretty cool," DeBrincat said of his third hat trick, "but I wouldn't be able to do that without the guys we have in this locker room and the linemates I've had. Most credit to them."

Entering Sunday, his last goal was on Feb. 17 against the Washington Capitals.

"Obviously it's frustrating when you go through a slump that like that but what I've learned is to stay positive and there's other things you can help your team win with," DeBrincat said. "Just kind of focus on those things."

He netted goals No. 23, 24 and 25 on the season, tying Patrick Kane for the team lead. He is also tied for second among goals scored by a rookie this season.

DeBrincat opened the scoring with nice wrist shot on the power play to give the Blackhawks a 1-0 lead midway through the first. With less than a minute to go in the period, he tapped one home in front of the net to make it 2-0.

In the third period with the game tied at 3-3, DeBrincat put his team in front 4-3 with 3:13 left in regulation. 

“We were talking about [DeBrincat] today, it had been a while since he had scored," coach Joel Quenneville said. "But whether he scores or not, he does a lot of good things in the game, and he’s very aware of his positioning, and doing the right things, finding pucks, getting in shooting lanes, or denying passing lanes. So he’s effective in a lot of ways, but nice to see him score a nice power-play goal today.”

But Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo even things up again after a shot from the point found its way past J-F Berube with 1:22 left. Patrik Berglund would net the game-winner in overtime to hand the Blackhawks a loss.

"I feel like we’ve played well and we just came up a little bit short," DeBrincat said. "I feel like that’s been the theme of this whole season.”

The pros and cons of reuniting Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews on Blackhawks top line


The pros and cons of reuniting Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews on Blackhawks top line

Jonathan Toews' offense usually comes in spurts. We're seeing it again right now.

But it's no coincidence his numbers have spiked since Patrick Kane joined him on the top line.

After recording another two points in Saturday's 5-3 loss to the Buffalo Sabres, the Blackhawks captain has 11 points (four goals, seven assists) in his past eight games; he had 11 points in his previous 23 games total.

Toews also reached the 20-goal mark for the 11th straight season, joining Kane and Alex Ovechkin as the only three active players to accomplish that feat to open their NHL careers.

Kane has seen his offensive production pick up, too. He has 16 points (four goals, 12 assists) in his past 13 games after going five straight without one, which was his longest point drought of the season.

When the two of them are on the ice together at even strength, they control 57.9 percent of the shot attempts. It hasn't quite translated on the scoresheet (14 goals for and 17 goals against) maybe the way it should, but they are certainly spending far more time in the offensive zone than the defensive end and are generating a high volume of shots.

So yes, reuniting the dynamic duo has worked stats-wise.

But it comes at a cost:

— Vinnie Hinostroza and Nick Schmaltz haven't scored in six straight contests.

— Alex DeBrincat's season-long goal drought is up to 13 games.

— Artem Anisimov's last even-strength goal came nine games ago.

When you put Kane and Toews together, you risk losing some balance across the lineup and that's why Joel Quenneville has always been reluctant to go to that nuclear option. He prefers when opposing teams are forced to play 'Pick Your Poison.'

Ideally, you'd like to spread out the scoring, but one thing is for certain: The Blackhawks are better when Kane and Toews are each producing offensively, whether they're apart or together. 

When the wins start to dry up though — and they have — that's normally when it's time to try something different.

Perhaps more importantly, the last thing you want are those scoring droughts mentioned above to stretch even further and get inside the younger skaters' heads, then carrying it with them into the offseason.