Marcus Kruger set to return when Blackhawks face Flames


Marcus Kruger set to return when Blackhawks face Flames

Marcus Kruger has waited a very long time for this.

The Blackhawks center, who’s been out since December with a wrist injury that required surgery and more than three months of recovery, no longer has to count his return time in days or weeks.

Now, it’s down to hours.

Kruger was officially activated off injured reserve on Friday and should play on Saturday night when the Blackhawks face the Calgary Flames. Kruger, who is now taking part in every bit of practice, including battle drills, was centering a familiar line with Andrew Desjardins and Andrew Shaw. Those three know each other well from previous time together, so you would think they’d click again immediately, right?

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“Well, hopefully pretty fast,” Desjardins said. “We only have a certain amount of games here left. If that is the case we’ll have to get together and find that chemistry.”

It didn’t seem to take too long last postseason. The line was strong from the start and Joel Quenneville wasn’t afraid to throw the trio into pressure situations.

“Hopefully you get some predictability with that line. Responsibility wise, energy-wise, it can really be effective for us. And [the penalty kill], that’s his bread-and-butter, so hopefully he can help us in that regard. It’s definitely been a sore spot for us,” Quenneville said of Kruger. “We know the importance that he can bring to your team. But certainly, he plays the right way and we can be better in the faceoff circle. So [there are] a lot of little intangibles that he adds for a team. We’re looking forward to him being a part of it again.”

So is Kruger. The forward has been skating for a few weeks now and his original return date, which wasn’t supposed to be until the postseason began, continued to be moved up. Kruger said he’s confident he’s 100 percent ready to return.

“If I would play, I would play all out,” Kruger said. “If I played [in Calgary], I’d be ready to do everything I can. There’s no such thing as easing into it. You got to go all out; otherwise you’re not going to be effective out there.”

[MORE: Corey Crawford unlikely to travel with Blackhawks during road trip]

As Quenneville said, Kruger adds in several categories. He was a big part of the Blackhawks’ penalty kill, which has been shaky to unreliable for a while now. He can also add some faceoff victories. Before getting hurt, Kruger was winning 49.7 percent of his faceoffs, second only to Jonathan Toews (58.5 percent).

Kruger is ready to return to help the Blackhawks, who could use his help right now. It’s been a very long wait for Kruger, who has never experienced a lengthy injury prior to this. He’s spent plenty of time preparing; he expects he’ll return to form soon.

“The thing I try to worry about — let’s go out there and play the same game I’ve been doing before and that’s what I expect from me,” Kruger said. “We have a little bit of a rough patch here the last few games. But I think we’ve talked a lot about it as a group and I think we’ve all got to do a little bit more. I think we’re going to be all right.”

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?