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Posted On Thursday, 12.29.2011 / 5:36 PM

By Brian Hedger - Correspondent / - 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.
Posted On Thursday, 12.29.2011 / 3:52 PM

By Brian Hedger - Correspondent / - 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).
Posted On Wednesday, 12.28.2011 / 3:14 PM

By Brian Hedger - Correspondent / - 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."
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."

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