Blackhawks

Tough practice has Kruger nearing a return

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Tough practice has Kruger nearing a return

Marcus Kruger took a minute to catch his breath and get a much-needed drink before talking in the locker room.

The Blackhawks center had a hard practice on Monday, with skating and skills development coach Kevin Delaney pushing him hard. It wasnt an easy day for Kruger, whos improving off the concussion he sustained around Christmas. But the more Kruger can do on the ice the closer he gets to playing again, so its all good with him.

Its just doing some conditioning to keep in shape, said Kruger, who has not been cleared for contact yet. It was tough today, but fun. Well see but just day by day.

It was a good sign for Kruger, who has now skated for four consecutive days, including the past two with his teammates. The Blackhawks will be without Patrick Sharp for the next 3-4 weeks with a handwrist injury, so getting Kruger back soon would certainly help.

Yeah, hes doing well, said coach Joel Quenneville. I just spoke to him. Hes progressing every day. He probably has to do more testing (the next few days) but hopefully get him playing here real soon.

Time to talk

The Blackhawks had an optional skate on Monday, with just seven skaters and the two goaltenders participating. The team also had their midseason individual player meetings on Monday. The Blackhawks just passed the halfway mark of their season with Sunday nights game against Detroit, and it was a chance to do their quarterly reviews.

We reflect on how were playing, Quenneville said. Sometimes we get feedback from veteran guys. Basically youre delivering your message and sometimes concentrating on individual things.

Briefly

When the Blackhawks host the Columbus Blue Jackets on Monday, it will be the second time this season theyve faced a squad fresh off a coaching change. Columbus coach Scott Arniel was fired on Monday; assistant coach Todd Richards was named interim coach.

The Blackhawks faced St. Louis on Nov. 8, the Blues first game with Ken Hitchcock as head coach. St. Louis won that game, 3-0.

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks return to action against Islanders

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Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks return to action against Islanders

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the New York Islanders tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. Erik Gustafsson's season debut.

The Blackhawks recalled one of their top defensive prospects on Jan. 9 but haven't been able to get him some game action yet. All signs point to that changing tonight.

He skated on a pairing with Brent Seabrook during Friday's practice, and was even placed on the second power play unit during special teams drills. Joel Quenneville was excited about the possibility of finally getting Gustafsson into the lineup.

"Good option, good opportunity," Quenneville said. "We’re not for sure but certainly he’s been around, he’s eager to go. I look forward to seeing what he can do."

2. Anthony Duclair's promotion.

He hasn't been in Chicago for very long but Duclair is quickly working his way up the lineup. The newly-acquired Blackhawk registered an assist in his team debut last Friday in a 2-1 victory over Winnipeg, and was put on a power play unit as well.

On Friday, Duclair was promoted to the top line with Brandon Saad and Jonathan Toews and continued getting reps on the second power-play unit. Let's see if the 22-year-old can take advantage of that opportunity in a top-six role.

3. Mathew Barzal.

Three rookies will be named finalists for the Calder Trophy at the end of the season. Barzal is a lock to be one of them.

He not only leads all rookies with 48 points, but he ranks 15th in the entire league in the scoring race and is the only first-year player averaging at least a point per game. 

The 20-year-old center has been sensational and he already has two five-point games in his young professional career. To put that into perspective, Patrick Kane recorded his first NHL five-point effort two weeks ago against the Ottawa Senators.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Are Blackhawks a playoff team even with Corey Crawford?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Are Blackhawks a playoff team even with Corey Crawford?

Seth Gruen and US99’s Stylz & Roman join Luke Stuckmeyer on the panel.  Joel Quenneville says he expects and hopes Corey Crawford can return this season?  Will he come back?  And are they a playoff team even if Crawford returns?

Plus the Bulls extend Zach LaVine’s minutes, a preview of Sunday’s championship game and will Jake Arrieta eventually end up back with the Cubs?