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Reeling Blackhawks lose a pair of defensemen

by Eric Gilmore /
SAN JOSE -- The Chicago Blackhawks, riding a six-game losing streak and a deep defensive slump, got some more bad news Friday morning.

Steve Montador and Niklas Hjalmarsson, two of the Blackhawks' top defensive players, were sent back to Chicago because of upper-body injuries and will miss Friday night's game against the San Jose Sharks at HP Pavilion.

Montador, who was hurt in the second period Tuesday against Colorado, was placed on injured reserve. Coach Joel Quenneville said Hjalmarsson has been ruled out for Saturday's game at Phoenix.  Hjalmarsson had missed the previous two days of practice with what the Blackhawks said was the flu but, according to multiple reports, could actually be a concussion.

"Things changed," Quenneville said, offering no specifics.

Chicago recalled rookie defenseman Dylan Olsen from Rockford of the American Hockey League. He didn't arrive in time for Friday morning's skate, but he's expected to arrive in time for the game and will be in the lineup Friday night, Quenneville said. So will defenseman Sami Lepisto, who has been a healthy scratch the past 15 and 23 of the past 24 games.

"I think Sami can give us some defensive consistency," Quenneville said. "He's got some offense, as well, to back it up. I want him to play a sound game, kind of like our team game."

Quenneville offered no specific reason why Lepisto has played so seldom.

"When you've got eight 'D' sometimes you've got to make some tough decisions," he said. "Whether it's him or John Scott, they want to play. You've got to commend them for sticking with it and being part of it and being a good teammate when they've been watching other guys get more ice time or games that they'd love to get a part of it. I was telling Sami the other day, be patient, things can change quickly, and here he is."

Olsen, 21, made his NHL debut with the Blackhawks on Jan. 5 and played two games before being sent back down. He had four shots, five hits and one blocked shot in that stint. Chicago drafted him with the 28th pick in the 2009 Entry Draft. In 44 games with the IceHogs, he has 4 goals, 3 assists and 44 penalty minutes.

"I think when he played here prior, the two games he played, I thought he was real solid for us," Quenneville said. "Gave us some size. Had some good presence, played the right side for us, did some good things."

The news was much better for San Jose. Defenseman Dan Boyle, who missed Wednesday night's game and Thursday's practice because of the flu, skated Friday morning and expects to return to the lineup against Chicago.

"I feel better," Boyle said. "Obviously I wouldn't be here if I didn't feel better. Stomach flu kind of went through the whole household. My parents were here, they both had it. Both my daughters and my wife had it. Not sure what it was. Ran its course and hopefully back in there tonight."

With Boyle sidelined, the Sharks suffered a 4-3 loss to Calgary, which came on the heels of a 5-3 loss at Phoenix. The Sharks' No. 1 focus tonight will be to get their defense back on track against a Blackhawks team that beat them 4-3 on Jan. 15 at Chicago.

"We know they're a very dynamic offensive team, so we're going to have to look after our end, and usually when we do that good things happen," Sharks captain Joe Thornton said. "So take care of our end and we'll probably play in their end quite a bit."

Sharks coach Todd McLellan said he expects to see "a different look" from his team Friday night than it had against Calgary.

"We didn't have a lot of intensity or energy early in the game," he said. "We expect that to change, and we weren't very good defensively. Too loose, too many freebies, too many turnovers. If we're playing the way I believe we can, we'll fix those areas and we'll still be in for a tight game because they're a group that's trying to fix their own issues, and I'm sure they'll come out with a lot of fire early in the game, and we'll have to match that."

Despite having back-to-back rough games, Antti Niemi will be in goal to face his former team, McLellan said. Niemi, who helped Chicago win the Stanley Cup two seasons ago, is 4-2-1 against the Blackhawks with a 2.59 goals-against average and a .921 save percentage.

"We think he's played well against them in the past," McLellan said of his decision to start Niemi. "He's due for a good game, and we believe in him."

Niemi certainly won't lack motivation when he takes the ice against a team that let him go in a salary cap move shortly after he won a Stanley Cup.

"You get motivated knowing who you're playing against," Niemi said. "Don't have to dig it from deep."

After losing six straight games and allowing 27 goals during that stretch, the Blackhawks should have motivation to spare, too. For the past two days, they've gone back to the basics, trying to get their defensive house in order.

"There's some little things we need to just remind ourselves of that are very important," Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said. "When things are going well you don't have to think about it. You just go out and do it. Maybe the last couple games we've been thinking a little too much out on the ice and that's why we're making mistakes. It's good just to refresh our mind on what we need to do defensively and now we can go out there and play and it will be a little more natural."

Here's how the lineups could look Friday night when the San Jose Sharks face the Chicago Blackhawks at HP Pavilion:

Benn Ferriero - Joe Thornton - Joe Pavelski
Patrick Marleau - Logan Couture - Ryane Clowe
Jamie McGinn - Michal Handzus - Torrey Mitchell
Brad Winchester - Andrew Desjardins - John McCarthy

Marc-Edouard Vlasic - Dan Boyle
Douglas Murray - Brent Burns
Colin White - Justin Braun

Antti Niemi
Thomas Greiss

Michael Frolik - Jonathan Toews - Marian Hossa
Patrick Sharp - Marcus Kruger - Patrick Kane
Bryan Bickell - Dave Bolland - Andrew Shaw
Andrew Brunette - Jamal Mayers - Viktor Stalberg

Duncan Keith - Brent Seabrook
Sami Lepisto - Sean O'Donnell
Dylan Olsen - Nick Leddy

Corey Crawford
Ray Emery

Crawford will start in goal for Chicago after backing up Ray Emery the previous two games. Crawford lost 1-0 to the Sharks and Niemi on Nov. 23, Chicago’s first game at HP Pavilion this season.

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