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Blackhawks tinkering with forward lines

by Brian Hedger /

CHICAGO -- Joel Quenneville is pleased overall with the play of his forwards, but the Chicago Blackhawks coach appears set to shake up his bottom six group going into a game Saturday night at United Center against the New York Islanders.

Fourth-line center Marcus Kruger skated at left wing on the third line in the team's morning skate, with Brandon Saad, who started the season on the left side of that unit, flipping over to the right side. Rookie Joakim Nordstrom took line rushes in Kruger's usual spot centering the fourth line, with Ben Smith, who had been getting looks at right wing on the third line, manning Nordstrom's right side.

"We're just trying some things," Quenneville said. "Whether we're looking for a little bit more from different lines or we're trying to say who might be better with one another, I think we're just trying some things. It's not that we don't like the way things are going. We're just trying to maybe have a different look and maybe it will be improved."

Saad, who started off trying to center the second line in training camp, said he's more comfortable going to the right wing than he was going from the left side to the middle – where he'd never played in his entire career.

"Not here, but growing up I played both sides and I'm pretty comfortable at both," Saad said. "I think [Kruger] is more comfortable on the left, so we're trying me out there [on the right]."

Saad has gotten off to a very good start in the first three games, scoring two goals with two assists and making plays at both ends of the ice. He's not concerned about the wing inversion causing a stumble and neither is Quenneville, although shifting from left to right usually means assuming different job responsibilities.

"There is maybe some awareness things when you go into the puck areas and coming out of the corners," Quenneville said. "But generally you just want to play hockey and do your thing out there. We'll see if he can handle it."

Nordstrom shifting from right wing on the fourth unit to center of that line is another trial the coaching staff is eager to assess. Nordstrom played mostly center in Sweden, before coming to North American to finish last season with the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League.

"I'm just trying to get more options, if that's a possibility … see how he handles it," Quenneville said. "[Kruger] moving up in that spot on that wing, we'll see how long that lasts. But it certainly gives us more flexibility."

Friday night will see veteran goalie Nikolai Khabibulin get his first start for the Blackhawks since leaving Chicago following the 2008-09 season.

The Islanders will likely start Kevin Poulin in goal and plan to have left wing Matt Moulson on their top line for the game. Moulson stayed back in New York for the birth of his son Friday morning and is traveling to Chicago on a commercial flight. He should get to United Center in time to play.

"Same mindset [as usual]," star center John Tavares said, after taking the morning skate without Moulson. "I really didn't think he was going to miss the game. I wasn't too worried. I think things were supposed to go pretty well this morning and thank God they did, but I'll try not to change anything [in my game-day routine]."

New York is also looking forward to the return of gritty forward Cal Clutterbuck, after a leg laceration in the preseason caused him to miss the first three games of the regular season. The injury happened on Sept. 17 in a preseason game against the Calgary Flames and Clutterbuck was expected to miss 4-6 weeks.

After healing quicker than anticipated, he's eager to face the Blackhawks, who ended his 2013 season with the Minnesota Wild in the quarterfinal round of the playoffs.

"It's been a little while coming, watching everybody else go through it the first three games of the year," Clutterbuck said. "The positive thing is we've obviously been playing well, but the flipside of that is you want to get in and be a part of that."

Here are the projected lineups for the Blackhawks and Islanders Saturday night:


Matt MoulsonJohn TavaresKyle Okposo

Michael GrabnerFrans NielsenJosh Bailey

Matt MartinCasey CizikasColin McDonald

Pierre-Marc BouchardPeter ReginCal Clutterbuck

Travis HamonicAndrew MacDonald

Lubomir VisnovskyThomas Hickey

Matt DonovanBrian Strait

Kevin Poulin

Evgeni Nabokov

Scratches: Brock Nelson, Eric Boulton, Matt Carkner


Bryan BickellJonathan ToewsPatrick Kane

Patrick SharpMichal HandzusMarian Hossa

Brandon SaadMarcus KrugerAndrew Shaw

Brandon BolligJoakim NordstromBen Smith

Duncan KeithBrent Seabrook

Johnny OduyaNiklas Hjalmarsson

Nick LeddyMichal Rozsival

Nikolai Khabibulin

Corey Crawford

Scratches: Jimmy Hayes, Michael Kostka, Sheldon Brookbank

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