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Posted On Wednesday, 12.28.2011 / 2:48 PM

By Brian Hedger - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Gagne injury opens up chance for Loktionov

CHICAGO -- The Los Angeles Kings are already struggling to put the puck in the net, but now they'll be trying to solve those issues without one of their top-six forwards.

The Kings put Simon Gagne on the injured reserve list on Wednesday morning with an upper-body injury that is suspected to be a concussion -- something Gagne has dealt with in the past. He was injured in the first period of a 4-3 win on Monday against the Phoenix Coyotes and wasn't able to finish the game.

Now, Gagne could be sidelined for an extended period and his team will need to fill the void. Gagne scored 7 goals and added 10 assists in 34 games, but recently-named Kings coach Darryl Sutter said the answer will likely come down to young players seizing the opportunity to shine.

"You know what, to be perfectly honest some of our veteran players haven't been productive in terms of offense anyways," Sutter said after his team's morning skate at the United Center on Wednesday. "So, it's an opportunity for a younger player, simple. It's not that hard to figure out. The game is about depth and there are injuries and you move on in a hurry."

In this case, it appears that 21-year old center Andrei Loktionov will get the first chance at filling in for Gagne on the left wing of the second line with Mike Richards -- who recently returned from an injury -- at center.

Loktionov, a fifth-round pick in the 2008 NHL Draft, has 2 assists in 15 games with Los Angeles this season. He has 4 goals and 9 points in 35 career NHL games and put up some impressive numbers in the American Hockey League over parts of the last two seasons.

Now, he's got a shot to show what he can do in the NHL -- even if it's not at his preferred position of center.

"I've seen him play in the American League last year and I've seen him in the world championships," Sutter said. "I know he's a skilled kid and he'd prefer to play center, but we're pretty strong at that position."

Sutter then ticked off the Kings centermen -- Anze Kopitar, Richards, Jarret Stoll and former Blackhawk Colin Fraser -- as evidence of the challenge a youngster like Loktionov has in cracking the lineup in the middle of the ice.

"If you want to play and get into the lineup, you're going to have to move out of position," Sutter said of Loktionov. "He's a talented enough kid that he should be able to adjust to that."

His teammates agree. They're trying not to focus on Gagne's absence, but rather on the presence of guys like Loktionov, Trevor Lewis and Kyle Clifford.

"We have other guys that can jump in and they can get the points and stuff like that," defenseman Drew Doughty said. "A lot of our scoring comes from our big guys, but it also comes through how our team's playing. When we stick to the system and we're working hard -- not giving the puck up and getting traffic and screens -- that's how our pucks are going in these days. So, even though (Gagne is) a big part of our lineup, I think the guys who are taking his spot are doing a great job."

Gagne's injury is also being looked at by the Kings as just a fact of life playing in the NHL -- where injuries to key players can be fairly common each season.

"(Gagne) is a top-six forward for us and we just got (Richards) back, but that's kind of how the season goes," Kings captain Dustin Brown said. "It's always the same every year. You always have guys go down and it's just an opportunity. We have some young guys in here and it's obviously time for them to step up and fill a bigger role. They've got to be excited about that, and as a team we've just got to pull together. We've been through it this year and last year. It seems like every year you always have injuries throughout."
Posted On Wednesday, 12.28.2011 / 2:00 PM

By Brian Hedger - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Kane in Blackhawks' lineup despite battling illness

CHICAGO -- Injury updates were the theme of the day at the United Center, where both the Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings prepared for Wednesday's night's game.

The Kings will be without second-line forward Simon Gagne, who was placed on injured reserve Wednesday morning with an upper body injury believed to be a concussion. The Hawks will be missing rookie center Marcus Kruger (upper body) and forward Daniel Carcillo (upper body), whom they hope will return on Friday against the Detroit Red Wings.

Chicago will have star forward Patrick Kane in uniform against the Kings, though he's fighting off a case of strep throat which hampered his play in Monday's 4-1 win against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Kane missed Tuesday's practice, but said the rest he got -- plus some antibiotic medication -- helped him feel much better on Wednesday.

"It's never fun to miss a day at the rink, especially when you just had four off for Christmas," said Kane, who started feeling ill on Christmas Eve and continued to get worse. "It's good to be back today. It was more strep throat, so it wasn't very fun. But I think the worst is over now. I just have to try and get through it tonight, I guess."

The Hawks are in the midst of a lengthy homestand and thus far have taken advantage of it. They've won five in a row at the United Center and are 6-0-1 in this building in the month of December - with the game against the Kings on Wednesday and the Red Wings here on Friday.

"You never want to have slumps and ups and downs, especially when we've got a lot of home games here coming up," Kane said. "You definitely want to separate yourself from the pack and take advantage of these, because we know in February we're going to be playing a lot on the road."

Chicago defenseman Steve Montador also missed Tuesday's practice for what Hawks coach Joel Quenneville called a "maintenance day," and also sat out Wednesday's morning skate. Montador, however, will play against the Kings on Wednesday night.

As for Kruger, it's more of a precautionary action after several hard hits he took against Columbus on Monday may have caused the concussion symptoms he incurred last week in Pittsburgh to flare up again.

"He played the other night and he's close," Quenneville said. "I don't know if it was a defining hit (by Columbus that did it). He's feeling alright today."

Here are the projected lineups for the Blackhawks and Kings:

Kyle Clifford - Anze Kopitar - Dustin Brown
Andrei Loktionov - Mike Richards - Trevor Lewis
Dustin Penner - Jarret Stoll - Justin Williams
Brad Richardson - Colin Fraser - Kevin Westgarth

Drew Doughty - Rob Scuderi
Willie Mitchell - Slava Voynov
Jack Johnson - Matt Greene

Jonathan Quick
Jonathan Bernier

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

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

Corey Crawford
Ray Emery

Posted On Monday, 12.26.2011 / 2:40 PM

By Brian Hedger - Correspondent / - 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.
Posted On Monday, 12.26.2011 / 2:38 PM

By Brian Hedger - Correspondent / - 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."
Posted On Monday, 12.26.2011 / 2:32 PM

By Brian Hedger - Correspondent / - 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."
Posted On Monday, 12.26.2011 / 2:26 PM

By Brian Hedger - Correspondent / - 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:

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

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.
Posted On Wednesday, 12.21.2011 / 7:10 PM

By Brian Hedger - Correspondent / - 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."

Posted On Wednesday, 12.21.2011 / 3:32 PM

By Brian Hedger - Correspondent / - 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.
Posted On Wednesday, 12.21.2011 / 11:46 AM

By Brian Hedger - Correspondent / - 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:


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


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.
Posted On Sunday, 12.18.2011 / 5:52 PM

By Brian Hedger - Correspondent / - 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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Quote of the Day

He's only 17 but he can see the ice so well and he moves the puck and goes to the open ice all the time, so I just think he's a player that is ready to play in the NHL. I'm really looking forward to coaching someone like this.

— U.S. National Junior Team coach Ron Wilson on Auston Matthews, the projected No. 1 pick of the 2016 NHL Draft