Marian Hossa returns to lineup when Blackhawks host Hurricanes


Marian Hossa returns to lineup when Blackhawks host Hurricanes

Marian Hossa returns and Corey Crawford starts when the Blackhawks host the Carolina Hurricanes tonight at the United Center.

Hossa missed the last two games before the Christmas break with an upper-body injury. Coach Joel Quenneville said last week that it was more precautionary than anything to hold Hossa out until after the break, and Hossa said the extra time benefitted him.

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“Obviously we had the nice break, a couple extra days definitely helped settle down,” said Hossa. “Now I just tested it on the ice, and it felt great.”

Hossa was in his usual top-line spot with Teuvo Teravainen and Jonathan Toews this morning. The second and fourth lines were the same as they were against Dallas. Andrew Shaw was back on the third line with Bryan Bickell and Dennis Rasmussen.

While Hossa wouldn’t divulge what the injury was, he said it happened in a game prior to the break and got worse against the Buffalo Sabres – “after the game is was smarter not to play, just take the break and make sure I get it back to normal,” he said.

[MORE: Blackhawks return from holiday break with another busy stretch ahead]

“It’s tough to fill his spot but it’s good seeing him get those extra couple of days to get the rest,” Bickell said. “He’s been in 1,200 games and over 200 playoff games; he’s still in great shape but circumstances like that, it’s precautionary. It’s a long season. Good to have him back tonight.”

Rob Scuderi, who took a redirected puck to the face against the Stars, is also expected to play tonight.

It’ll be another reunion for the Blackhawks tonight, with Kris Versteeg and Joakim Nordstrom now with the Hurricanes. Versteeg has five goals and 14 assists for Carolina while Nordstrom scored his second goal of the season against New Jersey on Saturday night.

How Blackhawks plan to handle Corey Crawford's workload


How Blackhawks plan to handle Corey Crawford's workload

Corey Crawford is back and it didn't look like he skipped much of a beat. The Blackhawks were handed their first regulation loss of the season to the Arizona Coyotes on Thursday, but the 33-year-old netminder stopped 27 of 30 shots (.900 save percentage) in his season debut and made several timely saves to keep his team in it.

In the larger picture, it was a win based on how well Crawford looked between the pipes.

"Yeah, I think it is," coach Joel Quenneville said after practice on Friday. "It's one of things we were wondering, how he would handle post-game and how he came in today. Very encouraging signs. He felt good in all aspects of what he went through and dealt with, and practiced well today too, so that was good."

The first one is in the books.

But what's the plan going forward? Will Crawford be on a "pitch count" or will they treat him like they have in past seasons when he was healthy?

In the past, Crawford has generally started somewhere in between 55-58 games per season. Part of that has been because of injuries. Another part is the Blackhawks have had reliable backups, which allowed them to give Crawford an extra night off here and there to keep him fresh.

It's not unreasonable, though, to think Crawford could flirt with 50 starts, considering he missed only five games to start the season. And they can still accomplish that by playing it safe.

The Blackhawks have 13 more back-to-backs this season, which gives them the opportunity to start Cam Ward at some point in each of them. That leaves room for another 15 or so starts to sprinkle in for Ward that could serve as rest days for Crawford and still being on track to start around 50.

Obviously, the Blackhawks want to be careful with how much they ask of Crawford because concussions are tricky to deal with and every player responds differently to it.

His return comes at a time where the Blackhawks are slated to play seven games in 11 days after playing just two in the previous 10. Thursday marked the start of that stretch.

"He’ll tell us how he feels and we’ll go from there and make those decisions," Quenneville said.

The Blackhawks have been on record saying they prefer not to carry three goaltenders. But in this case it makes sense. At least in the short term.

Quenneville said Friday that the Blackhawks will reevaluate the situation at the end of the weekend following the beginning of a busy stretch where they'll play three games in four days.

"Yeah, that’s the mindset," he said. "Let’s see how we handle these three in four and then we’ll address it."

Crawford is expected to start on Saturday in Columbus, making it his second start in three days. That's when they'll get a better sense of how he's handling things.

If it were up to him, Crawford said he feels he's prepared for it.

"Yeah, sure," Crawford said. "Why not? I've been working hard with [strength and conditioning coach Paul Goodman]. He's got me where I need to be, so I'm in shape right now. Why not?"

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


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!