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updated: 11/21/2013 12:30 AM

Some glitches, but Blackhawks still in a good place

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  • Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville reacts to the Colorado Avalanche scoring a third goal during the first period of Tuesday night's 5-1 loss.

      Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville reacts to the Colorado Avalanche scoring a third goal during the first period of Tuesday night's 5-1 loss.
    Associated Press

 
 

While a bit of adversity has crept into the picture for the Blackhawks, they still have reached a quarter of the season just 1 point behind Anaheim for first place in the Western Conference with 32 points.

Injuries are the biggest concern at the moment, with center Michal Handzus, goalie Nikolai Khabibulin and defenseman Michael Kostka all on long-term injured reserve.

Bryan Bickell suffered what appeared to be a left-leg injury in Tuesday's 5-1 loss at Colorado and could be out awhile, according to coach Joel Quenneville.

The Hawks were off Wednesday and, per club policy, no injury updates are provided on off-days. Bickell is expected to miss Thursday's game at Winnipeg.

Following the acquisition of Kris Versteeg last week, the Hawks are up against the salary cap -- at least that's what Quenneville told reporters after the loss in Denver, although Capgeek.com listed the Hawks at $2.1 million under the NHL's $64.3 million cap Wednesday due to Handzus, Khabibulin and Kostka being on long-term IR.

"We definitely have business decisions (to make) along with economic decisions with hockey decisions and getting the right fit," Quenneville told reporters in Denver. "That might play into our hands, but we'll see exactly what's available."

To that end, winger Jeremy Morin was recalled from Rockford on Wednesday.

Marian Hossa's return from a lower-body injury also would help. Hossa, who has 15 points in 19 games, has missed the last three games, two of which the Hawks have lost. Quenneville is hoping Hossa can play in Winnipeg on the second stop of the Hawks' seven-game road trip.

The Hawks are 14-4-4 despite ranking second to last in the league in penalty killing with 16 power-play goals allowed.

Biggest disappointment:

The play of 40-year-old backup goalie Nikolai Khabibulin has left a lot to be desired, and not solely because of his 5.00 goals-against average and .811 save percentage.

Before he injured his left leg in Saturday's 7-2 blowout loss at Nashville, Khabibulin hadn't started since Oct. 29 due to his inconsistent play.

As a result, Quenneville has had to overuse No. 1 goaltender Corey Crawford, who made his 20th appearance of the season in 22 games at Colorado. That wasn't part of the plan going into the season.

Antti Raanta was recalled from Rockford and spelled Crawford at Denver after Crawford surrendered 3 goals on 7 shots and was pulled.

Biggest plus:

The return to Norris Trophy form of Duncan Keith has been huge for the Hawks. Keith is fourth on the team in scoring with 16 points (15 of them assists) and is plus-3.

Toughest call:

Replacing Michael Frolik on the penalty kill has been nothing short of impossible.

The Hawks have tried Joakim Nordstrom, Brandon Saad, Ben Smith and Brandon Bollig in that role with Marcus Kruger, so far without much success. Maybe Versteeg will click with Kruger.

"Maybe they miss me, I don't know," said Frolik, who took pride in killing penalties and worked hard at it.

Biggest win:

There haven't been many more complete efforts than the one the Hawks turned in Sunday in beating San Jose 5-1. The Hawks dominated a very good team in the Sharks and showed everyone why they are in the mix to repeat as Stanley Cup champion.

Worst loss:

The win over the Sharks came a day after the Hawks were clobbered 7-2 in Nashville in a game in which everything seemed to go wrong.

Khabibulin got hurt after it was 2-0 for the Predators, and the Hawks were completely outworked and outplayed.

Biggest surprise:

Brandon Pirri has taken the job as No. 2 center and run with it. Pirri has 6 goals and 11 points in 17 games and is getting better at both ends of the ice. He is plus-6 defensively.

"He's still a work in progress," Hawks general manager Stan Bowman said last week. "We're trying not to give him too many responsibilities because you want him to have the confidence and have success. For a young offensive player, the biggest challenge is being comfortable to play both ways.

"I think he's working at it. I'm certainly proud of the way he has hung in there. He's got things to improve on, but we like the offensive part of his game. We know he can score because it's something he has done at every level."

With Pirri finding chemistry with Patrick Kane and Brandon Saad, it has given the Hawks two dangerous scoring lines. The top unit of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp and Hossa has combined for 54 points and been just as dominating defensively.

tsassone@dailyherald.com

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