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.”
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.”