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Blackhawks' Versteeg feeling good, playing well

by Mike Brophy

BLACKHAWKS (6-3-1) at MAPLE LEAFS (5-4-1)


TORONTO -- Kris Versteeg feels reborn.

This summer, for the first time in a few years, the 28-year-old Chicago Blackhawks left wing was healthy and able to train in preparation for the 2014-15 season. Previously he had been dealing with injuries and was not in game shape when the season started.

So even though he missed the first four games of this season with a lower-body injury, Versteeg said he feels like he's playing some of the best hockey of his career.

"It had been about three years since I had been able to train properly in the offseason and it has had a huge impact on my game," Versteeg said. "This summer meant a lot to me in terms of getting back to where I needed to be. I feel just as healthy as ever."

Versteeg had a goal and an assist in a 5-4 shootout win Thursday against the Ottawa Senators and will start Saturday against the Toronto Maple Leafs playing left wing on a line with captain Jonathan Toews at center and Marian Hossa at right wing.

In nine games Versteeg has two goals and three points. He has a good perspective about where he fits in with the Blackhawks.

"I know I'm not a top player here, but I just try to help out the other players and be a player who can play any position and anywhere in the lineup when I am needed," Versteeg said.

The Blackhawks had Friday off and rested in a Toronto hotel while the Maple Leafs played at the Columbus Blue Jackets. Does the fact the Maple Leafs had to travel Friday give Chicago an advantage?

"Sometimes it might," Versteeg said. "But sometimes back-to-back games can help a team get in a rhythm. You can never take a team lightly when they are playing the second of a back-to-back situation, especially when they are coming home where their fans give them energy. I know from having played here it is always a special feeling when you come home and play under the bright lights."

Versteeg played 53 games for the Maple Leafs during the 2010-11 season before being traded to the Philadelphia Flyers. While his stay in Toronto wasn't long, Versteeg said he has fond memories of playing for the Maple Leafs.

"It went by fast but I loved my time here," Versteeg said. "I love the city and my wife is from here."

The Maple Leafs have won two games in a row but lost left wing Joffrey Lupul to a broken hand Thursday. Lupul has two goals and three points in nine games but has gone five games without a point.

Forward Sam Carrick was recalled from Toronto of the American Hockey League on Saturday, and defenseman Stuart Percy was sent to the AHL.

Carrick, Matt Frattin and David Booth were the only Maple Leafs to skate Saturday morning, as the rest of the players were given the morning off.

Here are the projected lineups:


Patrick Sharp - Andrew Shaw - Patrick Kane

Kris Versteeg - Jonathan Toews - Marian Hossa

Bryan Bickell - Brad Richards - Jeremy Morin

Brandon Saad - Marcus Kruger - Ben Smith

Duncan Keith - Brent Seabrook

Johnny Oduya - Niklas Hjalmarsson

Trevor van Riemsdyk - Michal Rozsival

Corey Crawford

Antti Raanta

Scratched: David Rundblad

Injured: Daniel Carcillo (knee)


Daniel Winnik - Nazem Kadri - Phil Kessel

James van Riemsdyk - Tyler Bozak - David Clarkson

Richard Panik - Mike Santorelli - Leo Komarov

Carter Ashton - Peter Holland - Sam Carrick

Dion Phaneuf - Cody Franson

Stephane Robidas - Jake Gardiner

Morgan Rielly - Roman Polak

Jonathan Bernier

James Reimer

Scratched: Matt Frattin

Injured: David Booth (foot), Joffrey Lupul (broken hand)

Status report: Lupul will miss his second game because of the hand injury. … James van Riemsdyk was injured Friday in Columbus and may not dress. … Bickell played one shift in the third period of the Blackhawks' 5-4 win in Ottawa on Thursday. … Rundblad is expected to be a healthy scratch for the third straight game.

Who's Hot: Winnik had a goal and two assists Friday, his 500th NHL game. … Kessel has two goals and five points in his last two games. … Toews had two goals Thursday in Ottawa. … Hossa had a goal and an assist against the Senators to reach the 1,000 points in the NHL.

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