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Posted On Monday, 12.26.2011 / 2:40 PM

By Brian Hedger -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Blue Jackets use break to clear their heads

CHICAGO -- The three-day Christmas break was an opportunity for the Columbus Blue Jackets to mentally unplug from hockey. They've dropped four in a row, five of the last six and held leads of 4-1 and 5-2 in their last game against the Nashville Predators before losing 6-5.

The Jackets held a longer skate than normal on Monday at the United Center and had a lengthy on-ice talk from coach Scott Arniel -- who wants his team to basically hit the reset button on the rest of the season, which still has 48 games left in it.

"It was a chance to get away and clear our brains a little bit," Arniel said of the three-day break. "We can't dwell on what's happened and we've got to move forward. We've seen some of those ugly games happen, but we have to take responsibility for it and we have to find a way the next time we're in that position to get a better result."

Columbus goalie Curtis Sanford was in goal for that gut-wrenching loss to the Predators, but is having some ongoing issues with back spasms, meaning Steve Mason likely gets the nod against Chicago.
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Posted On Monday, 12.26.2011 / 2:38 PM

By Brian Hedger -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Kruger, Carcillo participate in morning skate

CHICAGO -- Blackhawks forwards Marcus Kruger and Daniel Carcillo -- who are both coming back from suspected concussions -- participated in Monday's morning skate. Kruger missed the forward lines portion of the skate, but was termed "likely" to play by coach Joel Quenneville. Carcillo skated on the second line, but was ruled out until he gets a few more practices.

"Both looked better and it was nice to see them on the ice," Quenneville said. "Krugs is likely to play tonight and Danny is out. (Carcillo) hasn't been on the ice for 10 days with us, so get back and get some conditioning and get feeling better."

After Quenneville said that about Kruger, however, the Hawks recalled center Brandon Pirri from Rockford of the American Hockey League. Pirri played for Kruger against the Canadiens and centered the second line between Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa, so he could find himself in that role or a different one on Monday night.

Kruger said was just good for him to get back on the ice so quickly after taking a high hit that knocked him out of the game against Pittsburgh last week. Penguins defenseman Deryk Engelland was also assessed a three-game suspension for the hit, which left Kruger a little "shaken" on the bench.

Quenneville said that he had to call for Kruger to go onto the ice a couple of times in the second period of that game and Kruger wasn't able to go.

"It was just to make sure not to do something stupid," Kruger said. "I felt better pretty quick there, so I'm glad to be back."

Carcillo didn't care to comment about his injury, which appeared to happen when he got hit in the head with an elbow against the Minnesota Wild. He's just hoping to get back on the ice for a game as soon as possible.

"When you're injured, you're injured and you're out of the lineup," Carcillo said. "It doesn't matter what it is. I'm going to get a few skates in over the next few days."
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Posted On Monday, 12.26.2011 / 2:32 PM

By Brian Hedger -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Blackhawks stick with Crawford vs. Blue Jackets

CHICAGO -- The victory that goalie Corey Crawford collected in the Chicago Blackhawks' last game prior to a four-day Christmas break did more than just boost his lagging confidence.

It also earned him a second straight start in net for the Hawks on Monday night at the United Center, when the Columbus Blue Jackets (9-21-4) make a visit to the Windy City. Prior to beating Montreal on Dec. 21, Crawford -- the unquestioned starter coming into the season -- had sat out six straight games behind veteran backup Ray Emery.

Now he'll get right back in between the pipes to try and build off it that game.

"I'm just going to worry about tonight," Crawford said following Chicago's morning skate at the United Center. "I'm just going to take it shot by shot and go from there."

Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville liked that approach from Crawford in the previous game and hopes to see more of it on Monday night.

"Coming off a great game, I thought it was just a matter of time before we got him back in the net," Quenneville said of Crawford. "We've got a lot of confidence in his ability and he earned the back-to-back starts based on his last game. We want him playing."

Crawford has gone through his share of struggles this season, after seizing the starting job as a rookie a year ago. He came into this season as the Hawks' unquestioned starter, but Emery's play has caused some to wonder who's the starter and who's the backup -- or if the Hawks (22-9-4) are even approaching it that way.

Quenneville sounds like he wants to see Crawford reassert himself as the starter, but at the same time can't be displeased with what he's getting out of Emery -- who won five straight games before losing to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

"We had a lot of confidence in him when we started the season and that hasn't changed at all," Quenneville said of Crawford. "It's just that Ray, all of a sudden, gave us something to think about -- but we want Corey playing."
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Posted On Monday, 12.26.2011 / 2:26 PM

By Brian Hedger -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Projected lineups for Blue Jackets, Blackhawks

CHICAGO -- Here's how the lineups could look tonight when the Chicago Blackhawks host the Columbus Blue Jackets at United Center:

BLUE JACKETS
Rick Nash - Derick Brassard - RJ Umberger
Vinny Prospal - Jeff Carter - Mark Letestu
Antoine Vermette - Samuel Pahlsson - Derek Dorsett
Derek MacKenzie - Ryan Johansen - Jared Boll

Fedor Tyutin - Nikita Nikitin
Marc Methot - James Wisniewski
John Moore - Grant Clitsome

Steve Mason
Curtis Sanford

BLACKHAWKS
Andrew Brunette - Jonathan Toews - Patrick Kane
Patrick Sharp - Marcus Kruger - Marian Hossa
Bryan Bickell - Dave Bolland - Viktor Stalberg
John Scott - Jamal Mayers - Michael Frolik

Duncan Keith - Brent Seabrook
Nick Leddy - Niklas Hjalmarsson
Sean O'Donnell - Steve Montador

Corey Crawford
Ray Emery

Note: The Blackgawks recalled center Brandon Pirri from the minors on Monday afternoon and he could slot right into the lineup, most likely on the second line at center in place of Marcus Kruger (upper-body injury). Kruger was ruled "likely" to play by Hawks coach Joel Quenneville, but Pirri was recalled after that assessment.
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Posted On Wednesday, 12.21.2011 / 7:10 PM

By Brian Hedger -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Kruger out; Pirri recalled by Hawks

CHICAGO – Marcus Kruger is doing OK after the hit he took on Tuesday night in Pittsburgh, but Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said the Swedish rookie center will sit out Wednesday's game at the United Center against the Montreal Canadiens.

To replace him in the lineup, the Hawks put forward Daniel Carcillo on injured reserve to clear a spot for center prospect Brandon Pirri, whom they called up from the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League on Wednesday afternoon.

"Krugs is doing alright today, but he's not playing,” Quenneville said late Wednesday afternoon. "He had a couple shifts there late in the first and then he came out for the second and a couple times I had to call for him to go and he just wasn't ready to play. That's kind of where we're at."

Pirri will likely go straight into the active lineup for Kruger, who was centering the second line between star forwards Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa. The 20-year old Pirri has played one game this season with the Hawks and finished with an assist in 15:43 of ice time in the season-opener Oct. 7 in Dallas.

Pirri, Chicago's second-round pick in the 2009 NHL Draft (No.59),  is also the AHL's seventh-leading scorer with 13 goals and 31 points in 28 games. It's his play at the other end of the rink that he's been trying to work on in Rockford.

"(Ted Dent), our coach down there, stresses that good defense leads to offensive chances and by me shoring up my game (on defense) good things would happen in the offensive zone," Pirri said. "I see myself as a leader (in Rockford), so I'm working on my consistency and I think it's been going well this year."

It also happens to be a special game for Pirri to play in Chicago, coming against the team he grew up disliking as a fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

"It's a big game and I'd be lying to you if I said it I wasn't real excited to be here," Pirri said. "Being from Toronto, you always have that in you to beat the Habs and it's real cool being able to play them."

Carcillo, meanwhile, has been out with an undisclosed upper-body injury believed to be a concussion since getting injured on Dec. 14 in Minnesota. Quenneville said he's progressing well and could be ready to return to action after the NHL's Christmas break period.

Placing Carcillo on IR was merely a procedural thing to make room for Pirri, according to Quenneville.

"He's doing good," Quenneville said. "He's much better. These four days here, he should be back. We're hoping he can come out and be ready to go."

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Posted On Wednesday, 12.21.2011 / 3:32 PM

By Brian Hedger -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Hawks recall Pirri, place Carcillo on IR

CHICAGO – The Chicago Blackhawks called up center prospect Brandon Pirri from the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League on Wednesday and placed injured forward Daniel Carcillo on injured reserve to make room on the roster.

Pirri may go straight into the active lineup if rookie center Marcus Kruger cannot play after taking a big hit in the first period Tuesday against the Pittsburgh Penguins and not returning after playing the rest of the first.

The 20-year old Pirri has played one game this season with the Hawks and finished with an assist in 15:43 of ice time in the season-opener Oct. 7 in Dallas. Pirri, Chicago’s second-round pick in the 2009 NHL Draft (No. 59),  is the AHL’s seventh-leading scorer with 13 goals and 31 points in 28 games.

Carcillo has been out with an undisclosed upper-body injury believed to be a concussion since getting injured Dec. 14 in Minnesota.

Check back for more information after Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville meets with the media in Chicago on Wednesday afternoon. Pirri and Hawks captain Jonathan Toews will also speak with reporters at the United Center prior to Quenneville.
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Posted On Wednesday, 12.21.2011 / 11:46 AM

By Brian Hedger -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Lineup decisions looming for Blackhawks, Canadiens

CHICAGO – The Montreal Canadiens and Chicago Blackhawks both opted not to have a morning skate at United Center before facing each other Wednesday night.

That means questions about the playing status of Chicago players will have to wait until Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville meets with the media Wednesday afternoon. The first will pertain to rookie center Marcus Kruger, who was hit hard by Derek Engelland early in the first period Tuesday night in Pittsburgh and didn’t return to the ice.

Quenneville said after the 3-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins that Kruger was “OK,” but did not say whether he would be able to play against Montreal. Quenneville might also be asked about defenseman Brent Seabrook, who was seen skating slowly toward the Chicago bench late in the game Tuesday holding his arm. Seabrook also had to leave a game Sunday at United Center after a hit from behind by Calgary Flames forward Rene Bourque drove his head into the boards.

Quenneville said that Seabrook leaving that game was mostly a precaution, as the star blueliner has had three undisclosed upper-body injuries in the past that are believed to have been concussions. Another question for Quenneville will likely be about who starts in net for the Hawks.

Ray Emery has started six straight games, including Tuesday night in Pittsburgh, but Quenneville said after the morning skate Tuesday that it was “very likely” Corey Crawford would start against the Canadiens – which would be his first start since being pulled from a Dec. 5 game against the Phoenix Coyotes.

As for Montreal, the biggest lineup questions are on the blue line. Recently-named head coach Randy Cunneyworth shuffled up his top defense pairings Monday against the Boston Bruins by putting Raphael Diaz with Josh Gorges and sliding P.K. Subban next to Hal Gill.

Subban and Gorges had been playing together since the start of the season in October, but Gill and formed a pair for most of last season. Cunneyworth also said that Peter Budaj will get the start in net instead of Carey Price.

Here’s a look at the projected lineups:

CANADIENS

Max Pacioretty - David Desharnais - Erik Cole
Mike Cammalleri - Tomas Plekanec - Travis Moen
Andrei Kostitsyn - Lars Eller - Louis Leblanc
Mathieu Darche - Petteri Nokelainen - Mike Blunden

Josh Gorges - P.K. Subban
Hal Gill - Raphael Diaz
Tomas Kaberle - Chris Campoli

Peter Budaj
Carey Price

BLACKHAWKS

Andrew Brunette - Jonathan Toews - Patrick Sharp
Viktor Stalberg - Patrick Kane - Marian Hossa
Bryan Bickell - Dave Bolland - Jeremy Morin
John Scott - Jamal Mayers - Michael Frolik

Duncan Keith - Brent Seabrook
Nick Leddy - Niklas Hjalmarsson
Sean O'Donnell - Steve Montador

Corey Crawford
Ray Emery

Note: If Kruger is able to play, the Blackhawks lines will likely change. Kruger left the loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins after one period, which forced Quenneville to move star forward Patrick Kane w back to center of the second line between Stalberg and Hossa. Brunette and Sharp were also moved to the top line with Toews, while rookie Jeremy Morin -- who started that game on the top line -- was bumped down to the third line with Bickell and Bolland. Imposing 6-foot-8 defenseman John Scott, who can play some wing on the fourth line when needed, could also find his name in the lineup again after standing up for Kruger by fighting -- and punishing -- Pittsburgh's Derek Engelland for the hit, which the Hawks took exception to, despite not being penalized.
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Posted On Sunday, 12.18.2011 / 5:52 PM

By Brian Hedger -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Morin set to play against Flames

CHICAGO – Rather than easing Jeremy Morin into the lineup, the Chicago Blackhawks are putting the talented rookie forward in right away against the Calgary Flames on Sunday night at the United Center.

The 20-year old Morin was called up on Sunday morning from Rockford of the American Hockey League, where he'd played 22 games and scored 5 goals while tallying 10 assists – including one goal and eight helpers in his last nine games.

Morin is also coming off a three-game AHL suspension for an elbowing incident on Dec. 11 against Milwaukee – which is likely the reason he wasn't called up sooner following an upper-body injury to Hawks forward Daniel Carcillo on Wednesday in Minnesota.

"Organizationally, he's a player that we see having a good future with us and it gives him a chance to get back in the lineup," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said Sunday afternoon. "He's played well down in the minors this year. He's got some upside offensively. He's got some strength in the puck area, good instincts, good shot and I think defensively he's fine, too. We're looking forward to seeing him play."

Morin made his debut with Chicago last season by playing nine games with the Hawks and scoring two goals while adding one assist. However, Morin sustained a shoulder injury playing for the United States at the 2011 World Junior Championships and he went back to Rockford after helping Team USA win a bronze medal.

Not long after his return, Morin got a concussion on Jan. 15 and missed the rest of the season (41 games) plus sitting out all exhibition games and scrimmages during this year's training camp. The concussion happened after a hard hit caused him to hit his head on the ice. Quenneville said the time spent in the minors this season was necessary for Morin just to get back into the rhythm of a hockey season.

"I think you need time on ice and quality time on ice," Quenneville said. "(The AHL) is a good league and coming off the extended injury there, I think he's earning an opportunity based on how well he's played."

Quenneville wouldn't reveal where in the Hawks lineup Morin will fit in against the Flames, but the most likely spots would be one of the wings on the third line in place of either left wing Bryan Bickell or right wing Michael Frolik.

Morin might also slide into the left wing spot on the fourth line in place of 6-foot-8 defenseman John Scott, who's used on the left wing of that line from time to time.  Morin is just excited to get back into an NHL game, regardless of where he's placed.

"You don't know when you're going to get called up, but obviously I'm excited about the opportunity and I'm looking forward to it," said Morin, who was the key return piece in a blockbuster deal with the former Atlanta Thrashers the summer after Chicago won the 2010 Stanley Cup. "I was just excited to kind of be back in the swing of things (in Rockford) and be playing again every night and every weekend, getting back into it. I was most excited about that. I knew I had to prove I could play again before I got the chance (to rejoin the Hawks)."

As for the long period sitting out with the concussion, Morin said it was a tough ordeal and a learning experience.

"I'd never gone through something like that before," he said. "Going through it, you don't really know how much it takes coming back and the timing and everything that it takes. You don't know when it's going to come back. I didn't struggle in the beginning, but it was a little tougher than I thought coming back. I was just excited to finally be back (in Rockford)."

Now the excitement shifts to having another opportunity to show he can play in the NHL.

"Anytime you come up here you just want to play your hardest and prove that you can play at this level," said Morin, who helped the U.S. win the gold medal at the 2010 World Junior Championships. "That's what I'm going to try and do and just play my game. I've definitely been trying to pick up my play in the last couple weeks. I'm moving in the right direction and happy with my game right now."

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Posted On Sunday, 12.18.2011 / 3:21 PM

By Brian Hedger -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Chicago's stars carrying Hawks during hot streak

CHICAGO – The scary thing is that Patrick Kane is right about the Chicago Blackhawks, who head into a game on Sunday night against the Calgary Flames just one point back of the NHL's top team, the Minnesota Wild.

Kane thinks that despite a recent hot stretch, which has the Hawks sitting 6-0-1 in December and 8-1-1 in their last 10 games, things could actually be going better overall. There are still a few lapses from time to time, so they do have things to work on despite a torrid offensive stretch by star leaders like captain Jonathan Toews and second-line wingers Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa.

"I think everyone was real excited about our team coming into the year and kind of had that feel like (it was) a couple of years ago … the same kind of buildup," said Kane, who has eight goals and 23 assists with a plus-10 rating. "The best part about it is that we probably feel like we haven't even played our best yet. Things can always get better and we know we can get better, too. There's still a lot of season left."

How much better can it get for the likes of Toews, Sharp and Hossa though?

Sharp, who has 17 goals and 17 assists, has a career long eight-game point streak going (7G, 5A) – which is the NHL's longest active streak and tied for the longest in the League this season. He also notched his 10th multi-point game in Friday's win against the visiting Anaheim Ducks, which ranks tied for first on the team with Hossa's 10 and seventh in the League.

He's also among the League leaders in plus/minus rating (+15) and became the first Blackhawks player to ever score back-to-back game-winning goals in overtime.

Hossa, meanwhile, has a four-game point streak going and has tallied five goals and five assists in his last six games. He has scored 14 goals and added 20 assists in 31 games – including his 400th career goal on Dec. 8 against the New York Islanders – and leads Western Conference forwards in plus/minus rating (+17).

Toews hasn't been as hot lately, but went on a 13-game tear from Nov. 10 to Dec. 5 that saw him score 12 goals and tally 11 assists, while continuing to lead the league in faceoff win percentage. Kane has also been kind of cold over the past four games (one assist), but he's capable of breaking out at any time.

"Those three guys are playing great and it's nice to have that balance for sure," Kane said of Toews, Sharp and Hossa. "Sharpie and Hossa have been playing awesome the past couple games, but Toews was on fire there for a while. Hopefully it's my turn soon."
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Posted On Sunday, 12.18.2011 / 2:30 PM

By Brian Hedger -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Blackhawks penalty kill much improved

CHICAGO – They are still ranked a lowly 27th in the League killing penalties, but the Chicago Blackhawks know two things that make that number much more tolerable.

First off, they've killed off 19 straight power plays over a span of the last six games heading into Sunday night's home game against the Calgary Flames – winning five of those contests and losing one in a shootout. Secondly, they wouldn't be ranked so low had it not been for a pair of blowout losses to the Vancouver Canucks at home and Edmonton Oilers on the road.

In those two games combined, the Hawks allowed nine goals in 13 attempts – including five on six chances against the Canucks and four on seven against the Oilers. Otherwise, Chicago's penalty kill has been pretty solid – and downright hot of late. It also helps to be one of the NHL's least penalized teams.

"We're not taking a lot of penalties, first of all, and at key times we're making big kills," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said after Saturday's practice. "We've got the good rotation with the forward groups and the (defensemen) are more aware of those plays around the net. (We're getting) big saves at big times, clears (and) pressuring. There's been more of an emphasis on not letting teams set up and get organized and keeping the heat on."

There has been more cohesion as a group lately, but it's also about a stepped-up effort when down a man or more.

"I think it's a matter of pride more than anything," forward Patrick Sharp said. "The numbers don't reflect the unit as a whole and there's always room for improvement. You see now, every time we try to kill off a penalty, the defensemen and forwards … everybody is working together and we're doing our best to pull it off."
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Quote of the Day

I think everyone left it out there. Every game this season, regular season and playoffs, we played as hard as we could. We're not out of the playoffs right now because of lack of effort, and that's all that we can ask of each other.

— Predators defenseman Seth Jones after Nashville was eliminated by Chicago in Game 6 on Saturday