For weeks now, Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville has been hinting that changes may be coming.
Well, it looks like they've arrived.
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Actually they began in Wednesday's 3-2 loss to the Rangers, when Quenneville moved center Marcus Kruger up to the second line alongside Patrick Kane and Kris Versteeg, while dropping veteran Michal Handzus to the fourth line.
Kruger has been impressing plenty of people lately, from the folks who run Team Sweden and selected him to participate in the Sochi Olympics, to the teammates and coaching staff he sees here on a daily basis.
But nobody more than Quenneville.
"You have to commend him on his practice habits," Quenneville said. "He betters himself because he works so hard in practice. He's really moved up the ladder in a lot of people's eyes -- particularly in this locker room."
Kruger, who collected an assist for the second straight game Wednesday, has 18 points this season,
"He's been a real nice fit for our team," Quenneville said. "You appreciate the energy he brings, the consistency he brings -- reliability on both sides of the puck. I see improvement in his game."
So does that mean Kruger will be skating with Kane and Versteeg on Saturday in Montreal?
"We're going to try it Friday in practice and probably go with it in Montreal and see how he does," Quenneville said.
Recapturing the momentum:
In their last four games, the Blackhawks have a loss in regulation, one in overtime and another in regulation.
Joel Quenneville is looking for that to change -- quickly.
"Finding solutions when you've been in a stretch like this when we've been ordinary at best," he said. "Recapturing some excitement in our game is what we're looking for. We've got to find a way to recapture that quickly."
His players are with him in attempting to shake the midseason blahs.
"This is where you can bank some points away," Brandon Bollig told WGN-AM after Wednesday's loss to the Rangers. "Not too many teams are going to be as amped up to play in this middle segment of the season."
Lately, that seems to include the Hawks.
"We're not going to make excuses," Duncan Keith said. "Every team has to play a lot of hockey. We want to use everything we've got for the games.
"We're probably guilty of not doing that the last few games."
You'd think it'd be a slam dunk for Corey Crawford to get the start against his hometown Canadiens in Montreal on Saturday, but Joel Quenneville wouldn't commit to that until after Friday's practice. ... Rockford forward Brandon Pirri was named to the AHL's all-star roster. ... Hawks radio play-by-play voice John Wiedeman has been selected as the NSSA's Illinois Sportscaster of the Year, the first such award for Wiedeman
"To be honest, (passing the puck) to one of those more skilled guys probably would have been the better play. If I would have missed the net or put it in his chest I would have caught some (guff) from the guys, so luckily it worked out."
-- Brandon Bollig about opting to shoot rather than pass to Patrick Kane or Marcus Kruger on Wednesday against the Rangers. Bollig netted a goal on the play.