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Hanzal, Vrbata returning to Coyotes' lineup

by Brian Hedger

CHICAGO -- The Phoenix Coyotes will get two of their most important players back Thursday at United Center against the Chicago Blackhawks.

Top center Martin Hanzal (illness) and second-line right wing Radim Vrbata (lower body) will return to the lineup after going through a full morning skate.

Hanzal missed one game, a 3-2 overtime win Tuesday against the St. Louis Blues, while Vrbata missed the past two games. Defenseman Derek Morris, who has missed the past three games with a lower-body injury, went through the skate but will not play.

"It gives us a little more depth at the forward position," Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said. "They're two guys who we put in our top-six forwards, so you take two of them out together, that's a big hole. [Hanzal] touches so many parts of the game for us at center ice and Vrbata's been, for the last couple years, our leading goal scorer. They're both valuable players who can hopefully jump back in and contribute."

Morris also is getting closer to returning.

"He's coming along," Tippett said. "He had a couple of tough days there but it looks like he's going in the right direction now."

The Blackhawks also have a forward returning to the lineup, but it's not injury-related. Rookie Jeremy Morin will start at right wing on the third line after being replaced by defenseman Sheldon Brookbank the past three games.

Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said he hopes to see a more consistent effort at the defensive end of the rink and Morin knows what's expected of him.

"I think there's obviously an adjustment [to the NHL] and I'm not completely satisfied with how I've been defensively," Morin said. "I think I can be better and that's what I'm trying to do [Thursday], just bring energy and be responsible defensively and play my game."

Playing in junior and then in Rockford of the American Hockey League, Morin's main strength always has been on offense. He bristles, however, at the notion that he's not capable of being a two-way forward.

"It's there," he said. "It's just bringing it every night is tough when you're playing against some pretty good players up here. It's a different speed but I think it just kind of comes with experience. I'm getting another opportunity [Thursday] and I just have to play my game and not overthink it too much."

The Blackhawks remain unsettled at right wing on their third and fourth lines, so the opportunity it there for Morin, 25-year old Ben Smith or someone else to cement themselves into the bottom-six group of forwards.

Rob Klinkhammer might have been in that mix, too, had the Blackhawks held onto him. Chicago traded him to the Ottawa Senators two seasons ago for a seventh-round pick in the 2013 NHL Draft.

He signed with the Coyotes last season and earned himself a regular role at left wing on the third line, where he's playing now. Klinkhammer, who has four goals, four assists and a plus-12 rating in 19 games, said he will be trying to show the Blackhawks what they could have had.

"You always want to play well against your old teams, no matter who it is," he said. "You want to show your best game, come out and play hard basically. They have a ton of great young prospects and whatever happened ... happened for a reason. I think it was great I got out of there. I've been in the lineup every night so far, just trying to contribute. It's a couple years late but that happens."

Corey Crawford will get the start in net for Chicago and Mike Smith will start for Phoenix, which has won two straight and is 12-2-2 since losing two of their first three games.

Here is how the Blackhawks and Coyotes likely will line up Thursday:


Shane Doan - Mike Ribeiro - David Moss

Lauri Korpikoski - Martin Hanzal - Radim Vrbata

Rob Klinkhammer - Antoine Vermette - Mikkel Boedker

Kyle Chipchura - Jeff Halpern - Jordan Szwarz

Zbynek Michalek - Oliver Ekman-Larsson

Keith Yandle - Michael Stone

David Schlemko - Rostislav Klesla

Mike Smith

Thomas Greiss

Scratched: Paul Bissonnette, Chris Brown, David Rundblad

Injured: Derek Morris (lower body)


Patrick Sharp - Jonathan Toews - Marian Hossa

Brandon Saad - Brandon Pirri - Patrick Kane

Bryan Bickell - Andrew Shaw - Jeremy Morin

Brandon Bollig - Marcus Kruger - Ben Smith

Duncan Keith - Brent Seabrook

Johnny Oduya - Niklas Hjalmarsson

Nick Leddy - Sheldon Brookbank

Corey Crawford

Nikolai Khabibulin

Scratched: Michal Rozsival

Injured: Michal Handzus (upper body), Michael Kostka (foot), Brad Mills (lower body)

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