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."
"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).