Blackhawks

Blackhawks' Marcus Kruger practices, hopes to return soon

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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.”

Hawks Talk Podcast: Thoughts on Corey Crawford's season debut

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USA TODAY

Hawks Talk Podcast: Thoughts on Corey Crawford's season debut

In the latest Hawks Talk Podcast, Pat Boyle, Jamal Mayers and Charlie Roumeliotis recap Corey Crawford’s season debut after missing nearly 10 months with a concussion.

Mayers talks about the Kitty system that Niklas Hjalmarsson and Vinnie Hinostroza probably dealt with in their returns to Chicago.

The guys also discuss what’s next for Crawford, the upcoming matchup against Artemi Panarin and the Columbus Blue Jackets, and the Blackhawks’ biggest areas for improvement.

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below, and be sure to subscribe, rate us and write a review!

Four takeaways: Blackhawks suffer first regulation loss, but Corey Crawford looks sharp in season debut

Four takeaways: Blackhawks suffer first regulation loss, but Corey Crawford looks sharp in season debut

Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 4-1 loss to the Arizona Coyotes at the United Center on Thursday:

1. Return of the Crow

The Blackhawks got their man back between the pipes after a 10-month layoff due to a concussion. And he looked like same old "Crow."

Crawford stopped 27 of 30 shots for a save percentage of .900. He faced 12 shots and eight scoring chances in the first period, but nothing too out of the ordinary. The biggest save he made was on a Michael Grabner breakaway in the third period, bailing out a turnover in the neutral zone.

"I think I felt better in the second and third," Crawford said. "But they really didn’t get that many opportunities early. It was nice. I think they flipped one in for the first one, so that was kind of good just to get in it and feel one early. We were close in that one all game and we created a lot. I thought [Antti] Raanta played really well.

"It was a tough, tough break at the end. Still felt I should have stopped that one. We were right there, we were creating a lot and gotta try to come up with that one. Just gotta forget about it and worry about the next game."

2. Alex DeBrincat, Jonathan Toews extend point streaks

The hot start continues for the Blackhawks' two leading scorers, both of whom assisted on Erik Gustafsson's goal in the second period to stretch their point streaks to six games. DeBrincat and Toews each have 10 points this season.

3. Overtime streak ends

The Blackhawks made history by forcing five straight overtime games to start the season, something no team has ever done in the four major sports (NBA, NFL, NHL, MLB). But they didn't have the comeback magic in them this time.

Entering Thursday, the Blackhawks were 1-0-1 when trailing after two periods. They were 5-28-2 last season for a win percentage of .143.

4. Familiar faces, new places

Five former Blackhawks took the ice for the Coyotes: Vinnie Hinostroza, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Jordan Oesterle, Richard Panik and Antti Raanta.

It was Hjalmarsson's first trip back to Chicago since being traded in the 2017 offseason. He received a nice video tribute during the second TV timeout of the first period, which made him very emotional.

"I almost got emotional too seeing his reaction," Toews said. "He's one of those guys you'll never forget what he meant to this locker room. He was a quiet guy in the room but we all know how he played and put everyone else before himself. Pretty cool reaction from the fans too. I think we were all sad to see him leave this locker room, he did a lot of special things and was a massive part of our championship wins. Happy for him to get that reception. It's well-deserved and obviously we miss having him around."

As far as the game, Hjalmarsson logged a team-high 22:18 of ice time and blocked three shots. Oesterle registered a secondary assist on Arizona's first goal, which was its first 5-on-5 of the season.

Hinostroza, who was also part of the Marian Hossa trade over the summer, scored twice in his return to his hometown, beating Crawford with a wrist shot to make it 2-1 in the second period and an empty-netter in the third; his second goal turned out to be the game winner, the fourth of his career and first as a member of the Coyotes.

Panik recorded four shot attempts (three on goal). And Raanta improved to 16-0-3 in his career at the United Center, a remarkable record for any goaltender in any situation.