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Blackhawks continue lineup shuffle against Wild

by Brian Hedger /

CHICAGO -- The wheel of change keeps spinning for the Chicago Blackhawks, with new faces continuing to get auditions and more familiar faces seeing looks in different roles.

This time, part of the lineup shakeup was caused by veteran center Michal Handzus, who did not participate in the Blackhawks' morning skate Saturday because of an upper-body injury. Marcus Kruger will fill in for Handzus at center on the second line Saturday night against the Minnesota Wild at United Center (8 p.m., FS-N, WGN), playing between star wingers Patrick Sharp and Patrick Kane.

The move means Andrew Shaw will shift back to the middle of the third line, where Kruger's been playing of late, and rookie Jeremy Morin will get his first look at right wing on that unit this season. Morin was recalled from Rockford of the American Hockey League on Friday afternoon.

"[Handzus] could be out for a little bit, we'll see," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "[Morin] gives us a little bit of something there, some speed and quickness and can score goals ... and things happen when he's out there."

Chicago's fourth line will also have a new face, as 30-year-old Brad Mills slides into the lineup on the right side of center Brandon Pirri. Mills was just signed to a one-year deal with the Blackhawks on Friday and recalled from Rockford along with Morin. The Blackhawks continue to seek a replacement for Michael Frolik, who played right wing on the fourth line all of last season before he was traded to the Winnipeg Jets in the off-season.

Frolik was also instrumental on Chicago's highly-successful penalty kill, which is now struggling without him. Rookie Joakim Nordstrom got the first crack at the role out of training camp, but was recently sent to Rockford. Ben Smith then had a chance at it and now it's Mills' turn.

"That one spot there, we're still looking to fill," Quenneville said.

Mills might fit the bill, despite having played just 31 games in the NHL, all with the New Jersey Devils.

"I'm just a hard-nosed, intense, physical guy," said Mills, whose lone career goal came against former Blackhawks goalie Marty Turco at United Center in the 2010-11 season. "I think I've got a lot of speed, [which] helps me to close gaps and finish checks, create turnovers and just make life miserable for the other team."

The Blackhawks (6-1-3), coming off a 6-5 overtime loss against the Tampa Bay Lightning, are also looking to get back to a sound defensive game. Corey Crawford will get the start in net after backup Nikolai Khabibulin allowed all six goals to the Lightning in a shaky performance. Upon reviewing it, Quenneville didn't mince words when summing up the outing for Khabibulin.

"We'll wipe the slate clean, but we'll definitely see what happened," Quenneville said. "We're definitely not pleased, knowing that we're expecting more from that. Let's move forward in a positive way, but knowing that's not good enough."

As for the visitors, the Wild hope to measure up against the defending Stanley Cup champions in their first game against Chicago since losing a Western Conference Quarterfinals series to the Blackhawks in five games last season. Minnesota now comes into this home-and-home set against Chicago as a Central Division rival, which could spice things up even more.

"Just looking at our team this year, I think we all feel that we've improved our game and we're looking forward to testing ourselves against the Stanley Cup champs," Wild center Kyle Brodziak told "It'll be a big challenge for us. They're a team that's been pretty established over the last few years and we feel like we're just beginning to establish ourselves. Now that we're in the same division, where we play each other a bunch more times during the year, you get that rivalry feeling that builds up and it's fun to be part of something like that."

Niklas Backstrom will get the start in net for the Wild (5-3-3), after relieving injured Josh Harding on Thursday night at Xcel Energy Center. He preserved a 3-1 win against the Carolina Hurricanes by not allowing a goal in the third period, even though he didn't feel 100 percent. Backstrom is still recovering from a strained knee that happened Oct. 8 in a 3-2 loss to the Nashville Predators at Bridgestone Arena.

Backing him up against the Blackhawks will be rookie Johan Gustafsson, as Harding didn't make the trip.

Here's a look at how the Wild and Blackhawks might line up:


Zach Parise - Mikko Koivu - Justin Fontaine

Nino Niederreiter - Mikael Granlund - Jason Pominville

Matt Cooke - Kyle Brodziak - Dany Heatley

Stephane Veilleux - Zenon Konopka - Torrey Mitchell

Ryan Suter - Jared Spurgeon

Marco Scandella - Nate Prosser

Clayton Stoner - Mathew Dumba

Niklas Backstrom

Johan Gustafsson

Injured: Mike Rupp (knee), Charlie Coyle (knee), Jonas Brodin (fractured cheekbone), Keith Ballard (upper body), Josh Harding (lower body)


Brandon Saad - Jonathan Toews - Marian Hossa

Patrick Sharp - Marcus Kruger - Patrick Kane

Bryan Bickell - Andrew Shaw - Jeremy Morin

Brandon Bollig - Brandon Pirri - Brad Mills

Duncan Keith - Brent Seabrook

Johnny Oduya - Niklas Hjalmarsson

Nick Leddy - Michal Rozsival

Corey Crawford

Nikolai Khabibulin

Scratched: Ben Smith, Sheldon Brookbank

Injured: Michael Kostka (foot fracture), Michal Handzus (upper body)

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