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Posted On Friday, 01.06.2012 / 12:14 PM

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

Kruger back on the ice for Chicago

CHICAGO -- Rookie center Marcus Kruger appears to be making progress recovering from an upper-body injury that has kept him out of four straight games.

Kruger hasn't played since Dec. 26 against the Columbus Blue Jackets, a game in which he was hit hard into the boards six days after returning from a potential head injury that happened on an illegal charge Dec. 20 by Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Deryk Engelland.

Since that Columbus game, Kruger has struggled to get back on the ice and earlier this week Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said Kruger had a "bad day" after he'd shown improvements. The next day Quenneville said Kruger was better and the Hawks then left for Philadelphia and a game Thursday night that they lost 5-4 on a late goal in the third.

The Hawks opted not to hold a morning skate Friday at United Center, prior to playing the Colorado Avalanche, but Kruger was on the ice in the morning with a skating coach going through individual work.

Kruger, who'd been centering the second line between Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa, has three goals and seven assists in 34 games with the Hawks.

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Posted On Wednesday, 01.04.2012 / 3:58 PM

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

Blackhawks seeing organizational depth tested

CHICAGO -- After skating through most of the first 39 games relatively healthy, the Chicago Blackhawks are now having their organizational depth tested.

They've got a possible long-term injury and indefinite suspension of forward Daniel Carcillo to deal with, plus injuries to veteran defenseman Steve Montador (upper body) and rookie center Marcus Kruger (upper body). Montador’s ailment isn't known, while it's believed Kruger's stems from a possible concussion. He was held out of a game Dec. 21 against the Montreal Canadiens after taking an illegal charge by Pittsburgh's Deryk Engelland the night before.

Kruger returned for a game on Dec. 26 against the Columbus Blue Jackets and sustained a couple more big hits into the boards. He hasn't played since and Quenneville said that he regressed somewhat on Tuesday before feeling better Wednesday.

Kruger and Montador were both placed on injured reserve Wednesday and two more new faces came up from the Hawks' system to take their place. Joining fellow rookie forward Jimmy Hayes -- who was recalled from Rockford of the American Hockey League on Dec. 29 -- are 21-year old defenseman Dylan Olsen and 20-year old forward Andrew Shaw.

"We've got some depth organizationally," Quenneville said. "Our young kids are playing. Internally we like our depth and sometimes we got exposed to it. That's what we get to find out and I think every team in the League goes through it over the course of the season. We haven't gotten hit with it until about now, so it's all part of the process."

Quenneville gave that answer after Wednesday's practice at the United Center, before the Hawks headed off to play the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday night in Philly. It was in response to a question about whether he thinks Chicago needs to bring in a veteran replacement for Carcillo if it's determined that the Hawks' gritty forward will be out for a long time.

In short, his answer was the Hawks will look inside the organization first. In fact, Shaw and Olsen are the seventh and eighth rookies the Hawks have put on the active roster this season -- along with Kruger, Brandon Saad, Brandon Pirri, Ben Smith and Jimmy Hayes, who was called up in late December and has played two games.

Olsen, a first-round pick in the 2009 NHL Draft (No. 28), is a 6-foot-2, 214-pound blueliner who's not afraid to hit and specializes in playing shutdown defense. Shaw, the Hawks' fifth-round pick in the 2011 Draft (No. 139), is a 5-10, 180-pound, energetic scrapper like Carcillo, who's also got some nifty skills around the net.

Shaw impressed Chicago's management and coaches in both prospects camp and training camp, and started the season in Rockford on an AHL contract. He scored 12 goals and totaled 21 points in 33 games before signing his entry-level contract on Tuesday and getting the call to come to Chicago not long afterward.
 
He's a good hitter and he's not afraid to drop the mitts -- as evidenced by fighting Carcillo during a scrimmage early in training camp. Now he'll make his NHL debut on Thursday against the Flyers -- likely playing right wing on the top line with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Sharp.

"Shaw is playing well down (in Rockford) and gives us a little personality and he's kind of a comparable player (to Carcillo)," Quenneville said. "It will give him a chance to see what he can do. We don't want to change his game, whoever he plays with. I'm sure we'll enjoy his energy."

As for Olsen, who got the call-up Tuesday on his 21st birthday, the Hawks are excited to see what he can bring to the team -- most likely playing the right point on the third defense pair in place of Montador. He scored 1 goal and added 1 assist with 38 penalty minutes in 30 games this season for Rockford.

"I like the way he can skate, I like the size and I like his presence," Quenneville said. "We're going to see how he does."

Like other rookies this season, Shaw and Olsen are just looking to make a great first impression. For Shaw, his approach to playing with Toews and Sharp will remain simplistic.

"Just play my game," he said. "That's why I'm here and that's what got me here. Just go to the net, play hard, stick up for my teammates and I think I should be fine. A few years ago, I never thought I'd be playing my first game in the NHL (now), but it shows hard work pays off."

Olsen is also eager to hit the ice wearing Chicago's iconic sweater.

"This is a huge opportunity," he said. "It's something you look forward to your whole life and finally getting the chance and the call last night was incredible. I'm just a hard-nosed defenseman. I can shut down the other team's top lines, take the body, move the puck and make good plays."

They weren't the only prospect roster moves the Hawks made this week. Chicago's front office was also busy on Monday, when the Hawks announced they’d signed 2011 first-round picks Mark McNeill (No. 18) and Philip Danault (No. 26) to entry-level contracts. Both are currently having good seasons with their respective junior teams.
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Posted On Wednesday, 01.04.2012 / 3:34 PM

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

Injury, suspension could keep Carcillo out a while

CHICAGO -- Daniel Carcillo's health prognosis is still not certain for the Chicago Blackhawks, but initial reports coming from Hawks coach Joel Quenneville don't sound all that encouraging.

Carcillo was injured on Monday night at the United Center while delivering an illegal hit to Edmonton Oilers defenseman Tom Gilbert in the second period of Chicago's 4-3 loss. Both players were hurt on the play and didn't return to the game, but Carcillo's appeared to be worse -- he got his left leg caught up under the fallen Gilbert.

The Hawks haven't released any official updates about Carcillo's status since the injury happened, but in the meantime the League took action to suspend Carcillo indefinitely for the hit until a hearing about the incident is held. It's Carcillo's sixth suspension and third that he'll serve this season, but for now the potential injury is what's of most concern for Chicago.

"We're still talking about the options with him," Quenneville said. "He had some tests done (Tuesday) and we're still evaluating it."

Asked if those options include surgery, Quenneville only answered, "We'll see," after Wednesday's practice at the United Center. It was just the second game back from a suspected concussion that kept Carcillo out for six games.

He came back and played left wing on the Hawks' top line with captain Jonathan Toews at center and Marian Hossa on the right wing.

"We just got him back and Carce is playing really well with Hoss and I," Toews said. "He was bringing that physical presence and he got the crowd going the other night with a fight against (Detroit's Todd Bertuzzi). He made a couple big plays in the offensive zone, too, so we want to keep a guy like that in our lineup. He's an effective player for us and we always say if we lose one of our key guys, we'll find a way to play without him … but it's no fun when that happens."

Carcillo has scored 2 goals and added 9 assists with a plus-10 rating, including a primary assist on Monday to set up Toews for his 22nd goal of the season.

However, it's been a turbulent debut season in Chicago for Carcillo after he signed a one-year contract as a free agent last summer. He started out serving a two-game suspension for an incident that occurred between periods of his final playoff game last spring with the Philadelphia Flyers.

Then he was assessed a second two-game suspension for an illegal hit from behind on Oct. 28 against Carolina's Joni Pitkainen. A League hearing will determine how long this next suspension will last, but that penalty might have to be enforced after Carcillo gets back from a long-term absence because of an injured leg.

Carcillo has not been made available to speak with reporters, but Quenneville was asked on Wednesday what his mood is like given the circumstances.

"I would assume that he's not too happy," Quenneville said.

The Hawks are standing behind him as a teammate, but his latest hit also puts them in a difficult situation of sorts after some of them called for the League to crack down even more against illegal hits this season.

"It's tough to tell, just because you know the guy and he is a friend and he's your teammate," Toews said of Carcillo's hit on Gilbert. "Again, it is a dangerous spot. We've been talking about these suspensions and head shots and different places where we have to be careful. Obviously, maybe he has a bit of a reputation, so that might play into it ... but you stand behind him. He's a physical player. He's going out there trying to create energy for our team, so it's unfortunate both players kind of came out of it with an injury."
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Posted On Monday, 01.02.2012 / 2:00 PM

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

Hawks motivated by earlier drubbing by Oilers

CHICAGO -- The last time they saw the Edmonton Oilers, the Chicago Blackhawks were in Rexall Place down 9-2 and the crowd was chanting for a 10th goal to be put on the board late in the third.

It was called a "humiliating" loss by Hawks head coach Joel Quenneville afterward and his players agreed. Since that game, it's been a different story for both teams. The Hawks have gone 12-4-1 and surged to the top of the League standings, while the Oilers are 7-17-1 in their past 25 games.

Monday night's game Edmonton at the United Center appears to be a prime opportunity for Chicago to exact some revenge for that earlier drubbing and the Hawks aren't exactly downplaying it.

"We certainly should use it as motivation," forward Jamal Mayers said after Monday's morning skate. "Obviously they took it to us in every facet of the game and we've got a chance to redeem ourselves tonight and get a victory -- and that's our focus."

Speaking of focus, the blowout loss to the Oilers actually helped the Hawks to regain theirs during a tough road swing through Western Canada and California. Just about everything was wrong about their game on Nov. 19 in Edmonton, but they quickly rebounded and haven't looked back --until now.

"I think it maybe just helped us realize some of our issues and some of our problems as a team that we needed to rectify," Hawks captain Jonathan Toews said. "When you're kind of cruising along, sometimes your talent and skill maybe takes over a little bit, even if you're not playing the right way and doing the right things. That will only get you so far, so maybe it was a wake-up call for us, that maybe we needed to change a few things and play harder and better for each other if we wanted to keep winning. It was a choice we made and you've seen a difference since then. So, it's time to put our team game to use tonight."

Don't mistake that for bravado or prediction of a win, however.

"We're not going to make any promises or do any trash talking," Toews said. "It's just all about how we play tonight and how we show up and prepare for this one."

The Oilers, meanwhile, know it's going to be a challenge.

"Good for us," Edmonton coach Tom Renney said. "Let's go right to the acid test. If we're going to grow up and be a competitive team, we have to take responsibility for our performances when they're good and bad. We had a strong game against these guys the last time we saw them. We know they're way better than a seven-goal spread, at least that, so we're going to have to bring our 'A' game from top to bottom tonight."

That means not trying to be too complex offensively and trying to once again tilt the ice in their favor by getting the puck behind the Chicago defense and forechecking effectively all game.

"It's just one of those things where we played them well last game and we're going to have to try and repeat that exact same game," Oilers forward Ryan Jones said. "That was one of the more simple games we've played all year. We did a great job of getting pucks deep and shooting and getting traffic to the net. That's kind of what we've been taking about what we need in our game all year."
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Posted On Monday, 01.02.2012 / 2:00 PM

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

Kruger out, Hayes in for Blackhawks

CHICAGO -- Blackhawks forward Marcus Kruger will miss a third straight game with an upper-body injury when Chicago hosts the Edmonton Oilers tonight at the United Center, which means rookie Jimmy Hayes will get his second start.

Defenseman Steve Montador (upper body) also will miss the game, as Sami Lepisto and John Scott will start as Chicago's third defense pair.

Edmonton is pulling a bit of a surprise by starting Devan Dubnyk in goal after he took a 4-1 loss Saturday against the New York Islanders -- which was the Oilers' third straight defeat on this four-game road trip.

Ben Eager also likely will start for Edmonton, despite two roughing calls plus a 10-minute unsportsmanlike-conduct call in the Islanders game -- which led to a pair of New York power-play goals. Meanwhile, Oilers coach Tom Renney hinted after this morning's skate that he might switch his top two lines to mirror what they were when Edmonton beat the Hawks 9-2 on Nov. 19 at Rexall Place.

If so, that means veteran Ryan Smyth might get put with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Taylor Hall on the top line, with Jordan Eberle moving to the second line with Shawn Horcoff and Sam Gagner.

Here's a look at how the Blackhawks and Oilers may line up tonight:

OILERS
Taylor Hall - Ryan Nugent-Hopkins - Ryan Smyth
Jordan Eberle - Shawn Horcoff - Sam Gagner
Ales Hemsky - Eric Belanger - Ryan Jones
Ben Eager - Anton Lander - Lennart Petrell

Ladislav Smid - Tom Gilbert
Theo Peckham - Jeff Petry
Colten Teubert - Corey Potter

Devan Dubnyk will start in goal, with Nikolai Khabibulin the backup

BLACKHAWKS
Daniel Carcillo - Jonathan Toews - Marian Hossa
Patrick Sharp - Patrick Kane - Viktor Stalberg
Bryan Bickell - Dave Bolland - Michael Frolik
Andrew Brunette - Jamal Mayers - Jimmy Hayes

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

Corey Crawford will start in goal, with Ray Emery the backup.

For more on tonight's game, check out the preview here.
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Posted On Friday, 12.30.2011 / 6:05 PM

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

Wings ready to roll with rookie fourth line

CHICAGO -- The label people like to put on the Detroit Red Wings is "aging," as a number of their star players are getting into the latter stages of their careers.

However, the Wings' average age will drop for Friday night's game against the rival Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center (8:30 p.m.) thanks to an all-rookie fourth line.

Regular third-line center Darren Helm and fourth-line right wing Tomas Holmstrom are out with groin injuries, so Red Wings coach Mike Babcock is ready to go with Gustav Nyquist, Cory Emmerton and Joakim Andersson as his fourth line on Friday night.

That makes the 23-year old Emmerton the veteran of the trio -- as both Nyquist and Andersson will be playing just their second NHL games.

"They're good hockey players, but I'll just try to calm them down the first couple of shifts," Emmerton said after Detroit's morning skate on Friday. "I'm still young, so I'll try to do the same thing for myself. But I'm the oldest guy and I've got the most games played. It's a weird feeling, but I think we’ll be fine."

It could also be fun for them, trying to prove they belong in a heated rivalry game against the League's top team.

"Chicago's a great team, so it's going to be a real good test for us," said Emmerton, who has just 28 NHL games under his belt. "It's kind of fun for there to be a young line to just go out there and do what we can and help the team. It's one of those games it's pretty easy to get excited for."

Nyquist, who's from Sweden, is thrilled for a couple of reasons.

It's a second chance to try and impress Babcock after not making much of an impression in his NHL debut against the Minnesota Wild on Nov. 1, but it's also going to happen in front of his parents and brother -- who'd planned to see him play in Grand Rapids and celebrate New Year's with him this weekend. Now they'll see him in the Windy City on Friday night.

"My parents and my brother are in town, so it will be a great time for them up in the stands," he said. "They were here for three days in Chicago and drove back to Grand Rapids to see me over New Year's. Right after practice I got called up, so I went right back with them to Chicago."

The decision to play all the rookies on the fourth line means that Justin Abdelkader -- who'd been centering the fourth line -- moves up to take Helm's spot in the middle of the third line between Drew Miller and Danny Cleary.

"He'll do good," said Helm, who made the trip despite the groin issue and having 20-stitches in his lip after getting hit in the face with a puck during the warm-up for Tuesday's game against St. Louis. "He's played in a lot of different situations and a lot of different spots and he's always done really good. He's a good player and when he gets a chance with those two guys he'll be able to jump right in there and contribute."

The Wings will miss Helm, though. He's not only the fastest skater on the team, but he's become a pest on the penalty kill and regularly gets breakaway chances off his work on that unit.

"It’s a loss all over," Babcock said. "Helmer's a tenacious, hard-working, great player for us and him and Cleary have given us a line a lot like what (Dave Bolland) does for (Chicago). It gives you a third group that’s really good and it wears on the other team. That's an opportunity for Abby. I've never met a player that wanted to play less. Here's an opportunity for Abby here tonight. Grab hold of it and do something with it."
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Posted On Friday, 12.30.2011 / 10:47 AM

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

Wings, Hawks renew heated rivalry

CHICAGO -- Friday night’s game at the United Center (8:30 p.m.) will be the first of six meetings between the Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks, who find themselves at or near the top of the Western Conference standings.

The Wings come to the Windy City off an exciting 3-2 come-from-behind victory against another Central Division rival, the St. Louis Blues, on Wednesday at Joe Louis Arena. Detroit, however, has just a 9-10-0 record on the road this season and will be facing a team in the Blackhawks that have only dropped one game in regulation at home in the month of December.

That was a tough 2-0 loss at the United Center to the Los Angeles Kings on Wednesday – a game in which goalies on both teams dominated the highlights. The Hawks’ offense will have to solve another top goalie in Jimmy Howard on Friday night.

The Blackhawks will get gritty forward Daniel Carcillo back from an upper-body injury that kept him out for six games, while rookie center Marcus Kruger will miss a second straight game with an upper-body injury believed to be related to a concussion.

Hawks defenseman Steve Montador missed practices on Tuesday and Thursday, but played against the Kings on Wednesday and hasn’t been ruled out for Friday night’s game against the Wings prior to the morning skate.

The Red Wings will be without two regulars in its lineup, as Tomas Holmstrom and Darren Helm are both sidelined with groin injuries. They will be replaced by rookie center Gustav Nyquist and rookie forward Joakim Andersson -- a pair of talented Swedish youngsters.

Here’s a look at how both teams may line up on Friday night:

RED WINGS
Johan Franzen - Pavel Datsyuk - Todd Bertuzzi
Valtteri Filppula - Henrik Zetterberg - Jiri Hudler
Drew Miller-Justin Abdelkader-Danny Cleary
Gustav Nyquist-Cory Emmerton-Joakim Andersson

Nicklas Lidstrom - Ian White
Niklas Kronwall - Brad Stuart
Jonathan Ericsson - Mike Commodore

Jimmy Howard
Ty Conklin

BLACKHAWKS
Daniel Carcillo - Jonathan Toews - Marian Hossa
Viktor Stalberg - Patrick Kane - Patrick Sharp
Bryan Bickell - Dave Bolland - Michael Frolik
Andrew Brunette - Jamal Mayers - Jimmy Hayes

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

Corey Crawford
Ray Emery
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Posted On Thursday, 12.29.2011 / 5:36 PM

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

Wings place Holmstrom on IR, recall Nyquist

DETROIT -- An injury to third-line center Darren Helm that occurred during Thursday's practice forced the Detroit Red Wings to make a couple of roster moves a day before playing the rival Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center.

Detroit placed injured forward Tomas Holmstrom (groin) on the injured reserve list on Thursday afternoon and recalled Gustav Nyquist from the Grand Rapids Griffins of the American Hockey League to take Helm's spot in the lineup.

Helm is expected to miss at least two games recovering from a groin injury that happened on Thursday, while Holmstrom said he won't be back for Friday's game in the Windy City or Saturday night's game at Joe Louis Arena against the St. Louis Blues.

"It's getting better," Holmstrom told reporters in Detroit on Thursday. "Hopefully I can play in Dallas (on Jan. 3). That's my goal. Still, when I do certain motions it's sharp pain, kind of. I've just got to find the right level to do workouts and see when I can step on the ice. Hopefully I can step on the ice on New Year's and feel it out, and then we'll know more where it is."

Holmstrom was hurt late in the second period on Dec. 26 in a game at Nashville.

"I got run into the boards," he said. "My body went one way and my foot the other way. Something popped, kind of."

Nyquist made his NHL debut with Detroit on Nov. 1 against the Minnesota Wild and didn't record a goal or assist in 11:07 on the ice. Nyquist, 22, was Detroit's fourth round pick in the 2008 NHL Draft before going to play collegiately at the University of Maine -- where he was twice nominated for the prestigious Hobey Baker award.

The 5-foot-11, 185-pound Nyquist -- who hails from Halmsted, Sweden -- is the leading scorer for Grand Rapids with 9 goals and 21 assists in his first full AHL season.
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Posted On Thursday, 12.29.2011 / 3:52 PM

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

Hawks again make Kane 'center' of attention

CHICAGO -- Once again, Patrick Kane is heading back to the middle of the ice as a center for the Chicago Blackhawks.

After starting the season at center of the second line for the first six weeks of the season, Kane was moved back to his regular spot at right wing on the top line next to Hawks captain Jonathan Toews around the beginning of December.

Now, he's back centering the second line as Chicago prepares to face the rival Detroit Red Wings on Friday night at the United Center for the first of six meetings this season. Hawks coach Joel Quenneville actually made the switch for the third period of Wednesday's 2-0 home loss to the Los Angeles Kings and carried it over into Thursday's practice -- where Kane centered Viktor Stalberg and Patrick Sharp.

"The last two times I've gone to center, it seems like we've had a little bit more balance," Kane said. "Once in Pittsburgh and once last night. We've had some good periods and some pressure in their end and some chances. I guess maybe they want to start out that way and see where it goes."

Kane isn't upset about the move at all.

"I'm excited," he said. "It's always fun to play with new linemates and new combinations. Sharp has been playing great and so has Stalberg, so I'm playing with two pretty confident guys right now."

Kane, however, is searching for a bit of confidence after going through a bit of a down period for him. Since Nov. 16, he’s scored just 2 goals to go with 11 assists and has 9 goals and 25 assists for the season.

On Wednesday against the Kings, he was stonewalled on three shots by Jonathan Quick, but had three others blocked and missed the net five times -- which is a number that jumps off the stat sheet because of Kane's usual accuracy. He's also been playing with strep throat the past two games, however, which has sapped some of his energy.

Quenneville liked what he saw from Kane at center against Los Angeles, though – especially being able to better dictate matchups with the last line change on home ice. He’ll have that advantage against Detroit on Friday, too.

"I noticed last night that he seems to have the puck a little bit more (at center)," Quenneville said. "It seems like we have more threats on both lines with him in the middle right now and I think that's part of it."

Kane agreed.

"At center you're always moving, you're always low and you're always supporting not only the forwards but the defensemen, as well," he said. "You are an out for the D-men a lot of times to give you the puck and skate up the ice. I have no problem with that. It's one of the strengths of my game is having the puck and making plays."

In other Hawks-related news, rookie center Marcus Kruger won't play against Detroit even though he continues to improve from an upper-body injury that's suspected to be concussion-related. That's another big reason for Kane being moved back to center -- which is a role that's been played by prospect Brandon Pirri the previous three games.
 
Chicago sent Pirri back to Rockford of the American Hockey League on Wednesday and recalled 6-foot-6, 221-pound forward prospect Jimmy Hayes to take his spot. Hayes, who has scored 5 goals and tallied 13 assists in Rockford this season, will likely make his NHL debut slotting into the right wing slot of the fourth line.

Veteran forward Andrew Brunette will also likely be on that fourth line after vacating the left wing spot on the top line -- which will probably be filled by the return to action of forward Daniel Carcillo, who has missed the past six games with a suspected concussion.

Defenseman Steve Montador missed Thursday's practice with an undisclosed injury that also kept him out of practice on Tuesday and for Wednesday's morning skate. Montador, a staple of the Hawks' third defense pairing, did play against the Kings on Wednesday and logged 15:31 of ice time.

He hasn't been ruled out for Friday's game against Detroit -- which will play Chicago without the services of fourth-line power forward Tomas Holmstrom (groin).
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Posted On Wednesday, 12.28.2011 / 3:14 PM

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

Pirri hoping to make most of opportunity

CHICAGO -- Prospects of the Chicago Blackhawks never want to hear coach Joel Quenneville assess their play in a game as "just OK."

That's Quenneville's nice way of saying they weren't good enough in one or more aspects of the game.

Yet, that's how 20-year old Brandon Pirri's most recent game with the Hawks was described by Quenneville after Monday's 4-1 win against the Columbus Blue Jackets. One game earlier, against the Montreal Canadiens before Christmas, Quenneville raved about the improvements Pirri had made at Rockford of the American Hockey League -- especially defensively.

Is Pirri's play in three games this season (2 assists) merely evidence of the turbulent nature of trying to find your way in the League as a rookie?

"Absolutely," Quenneville said after Chicago's morning skate at the United Center. "That's part of the process for young guys. He's still 20 years old and working his way here and trying to find a place and a niche. I think technically he's improved, but I think that's probably the learning curve to be expected of a young guy."

Often, getting a "just OK" assessment from Quenneville means a prospect is likely headed back to the minors very soon. In Pirri's case, the lingering upper-body injury of fellow rookie center Marcus Kruger (believed to be a concussion) has given him another chance to center the Hawks' second line between stars Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa.

Pirri knows it's a golden opportunity that not a lot of young centers get this early in their career.

"You don't want to waste it, because you're only up here as long as you're playing well," he said. "So, I'm just trying to come to each game and play well just so I can stay up here. I’ve got to create space for (Sharp and Hossa). It’s about giving skill guys like them opportunities and also still play my game of puck possession and speed.”

As for that inherent pressure to play well in order to stay, Pirri said there's only one good way to deal with it.

"You try not to think about it, because then you're worried about stuff other than the game," he said. "I've got a job to do and I know that it's the same for everyone else. If you're not playing well, you're going to be switched up and down the lineup or not in the lineup. That's part of being a pro."

If it sounds like Pirri is sounding more comfortable dealing with life in the NHL -- on and off the ice -- it's because he is. One of the things he's worked on down in Rockford was developing confidence in his own ability to make plays at a high level.

"It's just confidence and playing my game, not being timid," Pirri said. "Down in Rockford, my confidence is real high and I'm playing good hockey down there. I'm just trying to bring that same game up here."
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Quote of the Day

I'm very excited about what happened today. We've worked on this deal with Toronto for a month, or over a month. It got a little bit of legs on draft day, but it really heated up last night, and we were able to complete the deal today.

— Penguins GM Jim Rutherford on Phil Kessel, who he acquired from the Maple Leafs in a trade on Wednesday