Marcus Kruger brings balance, PK help to Blackhawks


Marcus Kruger brings balance, PK help to Blackhawks

ST. PAUL, Minnesota – Marcus Kruger was ready to come back, even if that meant playing two games in as many days.

“I’m not going to lie. I was probably a little more sore than I usually am after a back to back,” Kruger said with a smile. “I think that’s something I expected a little bit. But it’s just good to get back into it right away.”

After being out more than three months with a wrist injury Kruger returned on a back-to-back weekend against Calgary and Vancouver. Tiring? Sure. But for a player who sat on the sidelines longer than he ever had in his career previously, just being back was exhilarating.

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And there’s no doubt the Blackhawks missed him.

“Happy to have him back,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “He makes a difference to our team game. He handled the situation well and [got] important ice time when the games were on the line both nights throughout. He certainly gives that energy and the predictability that you want from a line or your team. It gives you a lot of options over the course of a game.”

Kruger has helped bring more balance to the Blackhawks’ lineup. He, Andrew Desjardins and Andrew Shaw found their 2015 postseason chemistry again relatively quickly. And Kruger has also helped a penalty kill that was struggling mightily in recent weeks. In Kruger’s three games back, the Blackhawks have gone 7-for-7 on the kill.

“That’s a good plus coming to the playoffs. I think Krugsie’s a big part of it for a few years and him [coming] back, he understands the system and he’s well known on the system. And to have a penalty-killer like that has definitely helped that whole unit,” Marian Hossa said. “I think overall we’ve been more on the same page. We’re putting more pressure on the players and we don’t just wait.”

Kruger didn’t take many face-offs in his first game back – he had just four against Calgary – but that total has increased in his last two games. Line mates Desjardins and Shaw have helped in that department, too.

“Even last year we’d switch strong-side draws, which helps our percentage and puck possession. It’s something we’re going to need down the stretch,” said Shaw, who said Kruger didn’t skip a beat in his return. “He looked good. He made some smart plays. Obviously he’s strong defensively, great on the PK and we expect him to get better and better.”

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Kruger didn’t know how he would react to his first game or two back. He found out quickly off that back-to-back that he’s reacting just fine.

“It’s good to be back again and playing games again. I’ve been skating for a while but you never know how it’ll be when you’re out there in game situation,” Kruger said. “Obviously it felt good.”

A recap of Kirby Dach’s AHL debut and Blackhawks explanation for conditioning stint

A recap of Kirby Dach’s AHL debut and Blackhawks explanation for conditioning stint

Kirby Dach made his pro debut on Saturday, but it wasn't with the Blackhawks.

The No. 3 overall pick from this past June was activated from his injured/non-roster designation and assigned to the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League for conditioning purposes and jumped right into the lineup. He didn't appear in any NHL preseason games because he was under the league's concussion protocol during training camp.

In his season debut, Dach recorded two shots on goal and had a minus-1 rating in a 4-2 loss to the Grand Rapids Griffins. He centered the fourth line with Brandon Hagel and Nick Moutrey.

Blackhawks coach Jeremy Colliton discussed the decision to send Dach to Rockford after Saturday's game against the Winnipeg Jets, and it sounds like the organization remains committed to giving him a look at the NHL level whenever his conditioning stint is over.

"He hasn't played in a long time," Colliton said. "Missed training camp, missed the exhibition season. We think he can help us so we're trying to set him up, give him the best opportunity so when he does get the chance here he'll be as ready as he can be. It's a good league down there and a chance for him to get his feet wet against men. And I think he's been getting better and better in his practice time here with us. So I'm excited. Hopefully, he can gain confidence down there and then be ready to help us."

Because he's not eligible to play in the AHL full-time this season due to Canadian Hockey League rules, Dach's conditioning stint in Rockford can last up to 14 days, according to the Collective Bargaining Agreement, before the Blackhawks are forced to either recall him or send him back to the Saskatoon Blades in the Western Hockey League.

Rockford has four more games over that span, with its next one on Monday against the Laval Rocket at BMO Harris Bank Center.

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Four takeaways: Blackhawks squander two-goal lead in overtime loss to Jets

Four takeaways: Blackhawks squander two-goal lead in overtime loss to Jets

Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 3-2 overtime loss to the Winnipeg Jets at the United Center on Saturday:

1. Squandering a two-goal lead

For the second straight home game, the Blackhawks jumped out in front and even built an early cushion by scoring the first two goals in the opening frame. But they allowed the Jets to score three unanswered, including the overtime winner by Mark Scheifele, to remain winless on the season (0-2-1).

"We did a good job in the first and they took it to us in the second," said Brandon Saad, who scored a shorthanded goal. "Lehnny made some big saves and the third was kind of even. But we definitely had chances to close it out and we didn’t. At least we got a point and we have to move on from it."

2. Another lackluster second period

If there's one thing you can point to that's been a trend in all three games so far, it's that the Blackhawks have been lackluster in the second period. And it's difficult to pinpoint why.

In the middle frame, the Blackhawks have 10 scoring chances for and 35 against at 5-on-5, two high-danger chances for and 10 against at 5-on-5 and a minus-19 shot differential, according to Natural Stat Trick. That's an area of the game they're trying to clean up and has been the downfall to their attempts of putting together a full 60-minute effort.

"Obviously it's been three in a row where we haven't been very good in the second period and to me that's where you show how good you are," coach Jeremy Colliton said. "The best teams, they dominate the second period, so it's a point of emphasis for us. We'd like to control the tempo of the game and control the territory, out-chance the other team. That's where you show how good you are, so we're not close to where we want to be in that area."

3. Robin Lehner's debut

After going two weeks without game action, the Blackhawks gave the nod to Lehner, who went into Saturday with a 4-0-0 record, 2.76 goals-against average and .922 save percentage in five career games against the Jets. He took the loss, but certainly did his part to deserve a win.

In regulation, Lehner stopped 30 of 32 shots for a save percentage of .938. The first goal was on the power play, the second came at 5-on-5 when Andrew Copp found himself all alone in front and the third was in overtime during 3-on-3 action. His 5-on-5 save percentage was .962, which will definitely work.

"I felt good," Lehner said. "I felt like I saw the puck well. I thought rebound control was good. Again, the first one is unfortunate, it squeaks through. But I was where I wanted to be in position and somehow it goes in. Gotta try to clean that up. And the third goal, it just dove on me. He missed his shot. It’s unfortunate. But I thought I made some good saves and felt comfortable. We got a point, which is something, but should’ve got a win today."

4. Penalty kill shows improvement

The Blackhawks gave up a power-play goal for the third consecutive contest, but this was close to being a perfect night for the penalty kill. They went 3-for-4 and gave up only four shots on goal in the 7:38 of shorthanded time.

On the first Jets power play of the night, Saad scored a shorthanded goal for his first of the season and the Blackhawks later generated two more scoring chances before the two minutes expired.

The power-play goal against should've been stopped by Lehner but he did everything right and had the shortside sealed, the puck just found a mini hole. The Blackhawks responded with a big kill and had one late in the third period also. No complaints.

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