The Blackhawks’ top six featured some changes at practice on Thursday, and could mean a new look to the lineup when the team faces the New York Islanders on home ice tomorrow.
The biggest move saw Patrick Kane – who has been at center since the season began – reunited with Jonathan Toews on the top line at right wing, opposite Viktor Stalberg. Moving Kane off the second line frees up space for Marcus Kruger, who got time between Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa at practice.
“Kane at center has been a good option for us,” Blackhawks Head Coach Joel Quenneville said. “Kruger is playing well. We like two of Sharp, Kane, Hossa and Toews playing together. That gives us a different look and something we get to try.”
Though Kane said he was comfortable with the move back to his familiar position, he was quick to add that this may not be the last Blackhawks see of No. 88 in the middle, where he has scored 7 goals, 17 assists and recorded a plus-9 rating in 24 games this year.
"Sometimes you just have to keep things exciting and switch it up,” he said. “I'm familiar with [right wing]. I have to get used to it a little bit but it shouldn’t take long. I'll still try to do some things I did at center where you're trying to get the puck a lot down low, moving up ice. I don't think [playing at center] is totally out of the books; it's something they could go back to if they need it.”
While new linemate Toews was quick to dismiss the importance of the move, he did say that having Kane back on his line will give both of them more opportunities on offense.
“Back to old ways, I guess,” he said. “Kaner’s proven he can play at center, and going back to wing, he’ll be as comfortable as ever. We’ll just go back and make plays – both guys want the puck, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The good thing with Kaner is that sometimes you can shy away from the puck and get away from all of the attention on the ice and sneak back door. He can back opponents off and buy some time. It’s nice to play with a guy like that and I think he’ll fit in with [Stalberg] and me.”
The move also signals a significant promotion for the 21-year-old Kruger, who has just 36 NHL games under his belt, but has caught the coaching staff’s and players’ attention with his impressive play early this season. Playing in between two All-Star caliber players in Sharp and Hossa could give Kruger enough talent around him to prove that he belongs in the top six.
"Marcus gives us an option based on his performance, and we'll see how he handles it with the top guys," said Quenneville. "It's more of an experiment that way as well. Knowing you always have Kane in the middle in your back pocket is a nice option to have."
“We’ll let it play out,” Sharp said. “I don’t think [the line change] is as big of a deal as it seems from the outside. Lines change all the time. The three of us have been together before. We’re excited to try a new line and see how things go.”
News and notes: Corey Crawford will get the start in net against the Islanders… Brent Seabrook, Dave Bolland and Steve Montador all sat out of practice Thursday for maintenance, and all are expected to play Friday.