Chicago Blackhawks: Line combinations

Hawks shuffle lines with Handzus' return

November, 25, 2013
11/25/13
3:31
PM CT
By Ryan Dittrick
Special to ESPNChicago.com
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EDMONTON, Alberta -- With Michal Handzus back with the Chicago Blackhawks after missing 14 games with an upper body injury, coach Joel Quenneville has shuffled their lines for Monday's game against the Edmonton Oilers. Sheldon Brookbank moves back on defence, while Michal Rozsival will be healthy scratch.

The lines are: Patrick Sharp - Jonathan Toews - Brandon Saad, Handzus - Brandon Pirri - Patrick Kane, Kris Versteeg - Andrew Shaw - Jeremy Morin and Brandon Bollig - Marcus Kruger - Ben Smith.

The defensive pairings are Duncan Keith - Brent Seabrook, Johnny Oduya - Niklas Hjalmarsson and Nick Leddy - Sheldon Brookbank.

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Banged-up Bickell plays tough in finals

June, 25, 2013
6/25/13
1:48
AM CT
Powers By Scott Powers
ESPNChicago.com
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 Bryan BickellAP Photo/Charles KrupaBryan Bickell celebrates his game-tying goal with Jonathan Toews and Michal Handzus.
BOSTON -- Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville has gotten to the point that he has nearly perfected the art of sidestepping questions.

One he skillfully avoided throughout the Stanley Cup finals was why he waited until Game 4 to reunite the line of Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Bryan Bickell. The trio had accounted for three goals and four assists in the Blackhawks’ Western Conference finals series-clinching Game 5 win over the Los Angeles Kings.

It seemed only logical to keep the line together as the Blackhawks rolled into the Stanley Cup finals to face the Boston Bruins. Quenneville opted to split them up, though, and explained it as wanting more balance throughout the team.

But Quenneville wasn’t telling the truth then, and he came clean about it after the Blackhawks clinched the Stanley Cup with a 3-2 win over the Bruins in Game 6 on Monday.

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Viktor Stalberg 'likely' for Game 3

May, 19, 2013
5/19/13
2:24
PM CT
Powers By Scott Powers
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- Chicago Blackhawks forward Viktor Stalberg likely will play in Game 3 of the Western Conference semifinal series against the Detroit Red Wings after being a healthy scratch in the first two games, Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said Sunday.

Stalberg practiced with the third line during Sunday’s practice at the United Center. He was taken out of the lineup for the series’ first two games after playing in 47 of 48 regular-season games and in all five of the team’s first-round playoff games. He had nine goals and 14 assists in the regular season and one assist against the Minnesota Wild in the first round.

After Saturday’s 4-1 loss to the Red Wings in Chicago, which evened the series at 1-1 with Game 3 coming up in Detroit on Monday, Quenneville thought Stalberg’s speed could give the Blackhawks a boost.

“I think that’s one of his strengths -- his quickness and his speed, be it off the rush, loosening up coverage, going wide on D, maybe getting some entries on his own,” Quenneville said. “I thought he improved his play this year. When we talk about [the] decision not to play [him], we had a tough decision with [Dave Bolland] coming back in. Nice to see [Stalberg] back in there [at practice] with the option, and that [third] line playing together, which has been fairly consistent and pretty effective for most of the year. I think we can use his speed.”

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Time for Blackhawks to get serious

May, 18, 2013
5/18/13
4:37
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- So we have a series.

That was in question after Game 1, in which the Chicago Blackhawks dominated the Detroit Red Wings in their best-of-seven Western Conference semifinal, just as they had in the regular season. But the only thing similar from that game to Game 2 was the final score, 4-1. This time the Red Wings dominated.

“We knew they were going to come back and play much better than Game 1, and obviously we didn’t quite match the effort,” Hawks captain Jonathan Toews said.

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Flu among short-season concerns

January, 14, 2013
1/14/13
7:52
PM CT
Powers By Scott Powers
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- A compact 48-game regular season will likely provide Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville with plenty of obstacles.

The last thing Quenneville needs is something as simple, but as thwarting, as the flu to get in his team’s way.

“I’ve seen it happen and it can cause major disruption to your team,” Quenneville said after practice at Johnny’s IceHouse West on Monday. “We talked about it yesterday and mentioned it again today. We’re aware of how bad it is this year. We’ll make sure in a 48-game season we’re on top of it.”

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Early lines look good to Quenneville

January, 14, 2013
1/14/13
7:43
PM CT
Powers By Scott Powers
ESPNChicago.com
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Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said he’s pleased with his four current lines, but he isn’t guaranteeing anything about the future.

The line pairings for Monday were Daniel Carcillo, Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa on the first line, Patrick Sharp, Dave Bolland and Patrick Kane on the second line, Bryan Bickell, Andrew Shaw and Viktor Stalberg on the third line and Brandon Bollig, Jamal Mayers and Michael Frolik on the fourth line.

The defensive pairings were Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, Johnny Oduya and Niklas Hjalmarsson, Nick Leddy and Sheldon Brookbank and Ryan Stanton and Michal Rozsival.

“I like the way the lines are right now,” Quenneville said. “We talk about it all the time. ‘What do you think of this or maybe put this guy here?’ I still think the lines we’re seeing right now, it’s not etched in stone and that’s how we’re going to start, but they could be like that. But we’re not the type of team that just sits with the same lineup if things aren’t productive.”

Hawks ready to resume series at home

April, 16, 2012
4/16/12
9:35
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- Amid a goalie-getting-run controversy and two overtime thrillers, the scene for the Chicago Blackhawks-Phoenix Coyotes quarterfinal playoff series, tied at 1-1, shifts to the United Center for Games 3 and 4 starting on Tuesday.

For the Hawks, it’s their first home playoff contest since Game 6 last season against the Vancouver Canucks. That one ended in overtime as did the next three Hawks’ playoff games. Seeing a trend here?

“They’ll probably be the loudest of the year,” goalie Corey Crawford predicted of the crowd on Tuesday night. “We love playing in front of our fans.”

Who on the Hawks wouldn’t? They were 27-8-6 at home this season and sold out every game while Phoenix was a respectable 20-14-7 on the road.

[+] EnlargeJohnny Oduya
Bill Smith/Getty ImagesJohnny Oduya and the Blackhawks are ready to be back in front of the home crowd on Tuesday.
“Playoff hockey is a little different beast,” winger Andrew Brunette said. “After the first five, 10 minutes it feels like you’re in an old barn [arena]. You don’t really feel the home-ice advantage or home-ice disadvantage being on the road. Each team in the playoffs… there is a reason they’re in the playoffs. They’ve played well on the road.”

Brunette will take center stage once again as he did for a lot of Game 2, and plenty of games during the regular season. He’s back in the top 6 of forwards, playing with Marian Hossa and Patrick Kane again.

“It takes a few shifts to get back into the mojo,” Brunette said of being put back on their line mid-game. “I haven’t played with them in a little bit… trying to get them the puck. [They are] two of the premier players in the league and they both want the puck. You have to find a way for them to get the puck and let them do what they do best.”

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Hawks need improvement in PP, lineup

April, 13, 2012
4/13/12
3:22
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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[+] EnlargeBrent Seabrook
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesThe Blackhawks' power play could have changed Game 1, but it wasted opportunities.
GLENDALE,AZ. -- Let's assess a couple of things that went wrong for the Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday in a 3-2 overtime loss against the Phoenix Coyotes night:

The Power Play

It's not just that it didn't score, it was how those opportunities were earned and how and when they were wasted.

The Hawks were down 2-1 late in the second period when Antoine Vermette took a bad penalty during a goal-mouth scrum. With all the momentum going the other way, and a 33-1 regular season record for Phoenix when leading after two periods, this was a chance for the Hawks to change the tide back in their favor.

They didn't.

And with two more key opportunities in the third after lazy penalties by the Coyotes, the power play came up short again.

Those are the ones you want to make the opposing team pay for. They managed seven shots on four attempts for the night, but that means little when it doesn't score in a one-goal game.

Patrick Sharp pointed out the goal at the end of regulation came with an extra attacker, but those kind of scores even out over the course of the season.

The power play can be a difference maker and it simply hasn't been for a long time. It's scoreless in its last 14 attempts, going back to the regular season, and just 3 for its last 39.

Yes, the Coyotes missed on their chances -- including some 5-on-3 time -- but they don't have the firepower the Hawks possess. They were also missing their leading scorer, Radim Vrbata, who left early with an injury.

The Hawks' strength is their offense but it's come up short when it has a man advantage almost all year. They can't play even with Phoenix in this department and expect to win the series because the Coyotes do other things better than the Hawks.

The Lineup

Joel Quenneville deserves every benefit of the doubt for his Game 1 lineup but now changes have to come. Sean O'Donnell played 10:31 and was minus-2. Nothing more needs to be said there. Sami Lepisto or Dylan Olsen should be dressed for Game 2. Maybe both, considering Niklas Hjalmarsson also was minus-2 in just 16:11 and helped raise the turnover quotient for Chicago. But Hjalmarsson is a mainstay, O'Donnell is a questionable starter.

Brandon Bollig should be replaced by Michael Frolik or maybe even Jimmy Hayes. There's simply no use for Bollig considering the lack of fighting in the playoffs. Bollig has yet to earn a point in 19 NHL games and he was part of a brutal fourth line shift that led to the Coyotes' first goal which changed the momentum in the game completely. Frolik should be the choice. It's not about scoring goals -- Bollig isn't going to do that either -- it's about a quicker, better defensive, more experienced player. It was just two games ago Frolik created with a nice move around the opposing net getting a helper on the play. Bollig can't do that. Nor could he get to the puck quick enough to clear it on that fateful shift in the second period when Phoenix scored.

A loss can never be blamed on one or two people but it's the job of the coaching staff to put the team in the best position to win and max out every player available to them. The Hawks didn't do that in Game 1, but they get a pass. A second lineup mistake can't happen.
Marcus Kruger
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Chicago Blackhawks center Marcus Kruger talks about the progress he's made during his first full season with the team, and describes his comfort level playing with linemates Patrick Sharp and Viktor Stalberg.

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Hawks need better power play in playoffs

April, 9, 2012
4/09/12
8:09
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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At one point in the post-practice media sessions on Monday, Marian Hossa was asked to name the three things necessary for the Chicago Blackhawks to beat the Phoenix Coyotes in their first-round playoff matchup.

“Power play, power play, power play,” was his response.

The Hawks’ power-play was dreadful during the regular season, but that doesn’t mean it has to be in the postseason. With the return of Toews to power-play practice, the Hawks were sporting new looks on both units.

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A Kane/Toews/Hossa line looking likely

April, 9, 2012
4/09/12
7:51
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- The Chicago Blackhawks playoff lineup started to take shape with Monday’s first postseason practice. And the moment Jonathan Toews lined up at center with Patrick Kane to his left, you knew it was going to be an interesting day.

Toews didn’t exactly declare himself in Thursday’s Game 1 lineup against the Phoenix Coyotes, but let’s put it this way: He’s playing unless he has a setback from his concussion.

"I'm feeling more confident Thursday might be the day, but we'll see,” Toews said after practice to the largest media contingent of the season.

We’re down to semantics with Toews. And that’s just fine. No reason to put the cart ahead of the horse at this late date in his recovery. In other words, why jinx it until lineups need to be turned in?

[+] EnlargeMarian Hossa
Mike Stobe/NHLI via Getty ImagesPatrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa could prove a formidable line in the playoffs.
But with Kane on left wing instead of center or the right side, it all but assures Joel Quenneville is planning on having his captain in the lineup. You don’t ask an All-Star to play a position he hasn’t played since November of 2009 on a whim. Kane, Toews and Marian Hossa on the same line is happening.

“It’s a little bit different,” Kane said. “I’ve never really played it before. We just want to play with the puck. Working hard is the biggest thing, especially with the amount of skill we have. It seems like it could be a fun line.”

Kane and Hossa quickly remembered the last time it was tried. It was in Hossa’s Hawks debut back in 2009 against the San Jose Sharks.

“I remember three years ago, in my first game, we played together right away but after that we didn’t play much together,” Hossa said. “It can [click] right away or it can take some time. Hopefully it clicks right away.”

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Viktor Stalberg
Rob Grabowski/US Presswire
Chicago Blackhawks LW Viktor Stalberg discusses the advantages of playing on the third line and the fine line between making a play and turning over the puck.

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Coach criticism could fire up Blackhawks

February, 13, 2012
2/13/12
9:49
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- Losers of eight straight games, the Chicago Blackhawks, who now sit just five points ahead of ninth-place Calgary, went back to work on Monday to try to find some solutions to their problems.

The day started with general manager Stan Bowman declaring coach Joel Quenneville’s job was safe.

That's not the concern for me at all," Bowman told the Hawks’ flagship television station, Comcast SportsNet Chicago. "I'm very confident in Joel's ability, our coaching staff's ability."

That’s what every general manager will say about his coach -- until he’s not the coach anymore, right? But it was good for Bowman, and the team, that he got it out of the way in the morning so at least that question had less emphasis as practice began in the early afternoon.

After practice, the players, predictably, echoed their belief in their coach.

 Joel Quenneville
Jerry Lai/US PresswireThe Blackhawks were quick to defend coach Joel Quenneville on Monday.
“It bothers me,” Patrick Sharp said of the “fire Quenneville” talk. “He’s our leader, he’s our coach. We play hard for him, we believe in him and we know if something would happen there would be a lot of unhappy people in the room right now. We know we’re the guys out there on the ice that control the outcome of the game. There’s no doubts in Joel, that’s for sure.”

And maybe right there is the rallying cry the Hawks needed. Maybe the negative talk about the team and Quenneville is the best thing for them.
Until now, there was little emotion in the Hawks dressing room, especially on the road where they are insulated from the fans and much of the talk in Chicago. Defending their coach was the most emotion they’ve shown in a while.

“He’s been taking this whole thing really well,” Patrick Kane said. “He’s gotten rattled [mad] a few times but he’s been pretty even-keeled, the same guy, same practices, same coach. He’s a great coach. I love playing for the guy.”

And you get the feeling Kane isn’t just saying that because Quenneville gives the players a lot of days off or something else as simple as that. They respect him and he shows them respect back. Incredibly, and maybe even ironically, the typical negative talk that ensues during a streak like this might be the emotional tipping point for the Hawks. They need something at this point.

“The coaches are doing everything possible to get us ready, to get us prepared,” Kane said. “They’ve been great through the whole thing. They’ve obviously been on us, hard, but they’ve stayed pretty even-keeled. They’re doing their job great.”

So maybe the Hawks finally have some emotional motivation… now they need a strategic fix.

The lineup

Obviously sensing the urgency of the situation, Quenneville is trying something he’s resisted all year: loading up his stars on one line. Jonathan Toews, Sharp and Kane finished the game in Phoenix together and should start Tuesday’s game in Nashville the same way. That threesome was dynamic last season and Quenneville is hoping to recapture that magic.

“We came out of the last game, I thought [the] Toews, Kane and Sharp line had a big third period and keeping them together going into Tuesday’s game is something we’re looking at,” Quenneville said.

It means a struggling Hossa will be teamed with less talented or experienced players in Marcus Kruger and Andrew Brunette -- at least to start the game. Hossa has had a terrible stretch since the All-Star break. He has zero points and is minus-6.

“I’m definitely not happy with that,” Hossa said. “Not just the points, I’m not happy the way I’ve been skating. Just have to find a way to get the energy back. I need more pucks. That’s my hockey, play with the puck more.”

Hossa wouldn’t use playing during the All-Star break as an excuse simply because he said that’s exactly what it would be: “an excuse.” But maybe he needed the break. He was flying before it came, so it’s hard to understand why he’s not now.

Dave Bolland centered Bryan Bickell and Viktor Stalberg at practice. Stalberg is clearly in Quenneville’s doghouse after bad passes/turnovers have led to some goals against or prime chances the other way. If the offense struggles on Tuesday you can expect Stalberg and Brunette to switch places -- but only if the younger winger is responsible with the puck.

Brendan Morrison was in the middle between Jamal Mayers and Andrew Shaw while Michael Frolik was the extra forward.

Special teams

The Hawks made some tweaks to both their special teams units. Forget everything else right now, if both -- or at least one -- unit can be quickly fixed the Hawks will undoubtedly win some games again -- or at least one.

But working their power play and penalty killing without Niklas Hjalmarsson and Steve Montador is difficult. Both will miss Tuesday’s contest with upper body injuries.

“With both these guys being absent I think our group defense has to be aware and our patience around the ice has to have an awareness to the defensive side of things,” Quenneville said. “In certain areas we have to make safer plays.”

In other words, with Dylan Olsen and Sami Lepisto getting ice time for the first time in a while, the safer play is always the better one.

Quenneville wouldn’t go into specifics about Montador or Hjalmarsson’s injuries. It’s believed Hjalmarsson has a head problem which was first thought to be the flu or another illness. There is no timetable on either player’s return.

Emery in goal

It used to be the most important question to Quenneville. Who is starting in net? It was an afterthought on Monday, the last thing that was asked of him. Ray Emery will get the call on Tuesday against Nashville marking his third start in four games. He’s probably been better than Corey Crawford of late, but not by much.

Quotable
“Yeah, a few times,” said Kane, chuckling, when asked if Quenneville has “blown his stack” during the losing streak.

Q juggles lines, looks to end skid

February, 6, 2012
2/06/12
5:26
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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Duncan KeithBill Smith/Getty ImagesMarian Hossa has played with several different centermen, and now it's back to Dave Bolland.
CHICAGO -- A change in net wasn't the only new look at Blackhawks practice on Monday as the team prepared for the second leg of a nine-game road trip.

Once again coach Joel Quenneville has altered his forward lines, looking to end a season-worst five-game slide. He's electing to return Dave Bolland to the second line between Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp. That line has been quiet lately and will see its third center in four games since the All-Star break.

Brendan Morrison lasted two games in that spot but generated very little for himself or his teammates. By the time the Hawks took to the ice in Calgary, Marcus Kruger was back on the second line while Morrison was moved down. Now it's back to Bolland as general manager Stan Bowman undoubtedly continues to look for the right center to play there.

Morrison lasting only two games means Quenneville saw what was apparent after one game: he simply doesn't have the quickness or speed to make that line go. And while most times two games aren't enough of a sample size to make a judgement on anything, in this case, maybe it was. It became apparent quickly why the Hawks had to give up very little for a veteran player playing a much coveted position.

The New Lines

Andrew Brunette was missing due to an upper body injury so this is how they skated without him on Monday:
  • Andrew Shaw/Jonathan Toews/Patrick Kane
  • Patrick Sharp/Dave Bolland/Marian Hossa
  • Marcus Kruger/Brendan Morrison/Viktor Stalberg
  • Bryan Bickell/Jamal Mayers/Michael Frolik

    Hossa, in particular, likes having the same centerman, but that hasn't been the case since he became a Blackhawk. There was Patrick Sharp then Dave Bolland then Marcus Kruger, Andrew Shaw, Michael Frolik and Brendan Morrison, just to name a few.

    Sharp hasn't been used there this season, but come playoffs he might still be the best option at this point. Bolland will undoubtedly take his normal role as the checking line center unless something changes during this next stretch. He's more than proven himself there while the jury remains out on his abilities on the second line. Maybe we'll find out once and for all during this run.

    Stalberg was feeling good on the top line for a while, but half his goals have come against Columbus so a switch there wasn't a huge surprise. That line was better at home when matchups were easier for the Hawks. Quenneville needs to find the right ones for the road with six games still remaining on the trip, though changing them even during tough times is sure to drive some fans mad.

    "It's just a practice, I don't know what it's going to be like tomorrow [Tuesday]," Stalberg said. "It keeps you on your toes a little more. A lot of coaches around the league do that. We haven't been winning games lately so changing little things up might not be a bad thing."

    It's the age-old question: Change lines when they stall out or let the chemistry they've developed get them out of the funk? New lines need new chemistry and may take longer to gel. It's a Catch-22. Quenneville has proven he's more likely to change them then to keep them the same.

    Slappers
  • Andrew Brunette missed his second consecutive practice after missing Friday's game in Calgary. Brunette is scheduled to travel with the team to Colorado. Jonathan Toews returned after missing one day due to illness.
  • The Hawks got together to watch the Super Bowl on Sunday.

    "I don't know if anyone is really a Giants fan," Stalberg said of potential Giants fans in the locker room. "Kane is Buffalo. Not much to cheer for [there] these days."

    Quotable
    "He earned the last one. He kept winning and we kept going with him. I think the situation here is it seems every time he's been in the net he's done well and he gives us a chance." -- Joel Quenneville, on Tuesday's starter in net, Ray Emery.


  • VANCOUVER -- He may or may not be the answer as the second-line center for the Chicago Blackhawks, but newly acquired forward Brendan Morrison is going to get first crack at it.

    Morrison lined up between Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp during practice Monday evening in Vancouver and summed up the idea of playing with the two stars with one word.

    “Fun,” he declared after practice. “Two highly skilled players. Very talented. Great offensive instincts. Hopefully we can develop some chemistry.”

    Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville says he’s not worried about Morrison’s 36-year-old legs keeping up with Hossa and Sharp. He just wants him to be himself.

    “He adds a real nice dimension in the middle,” Quenneville said. “Be it faceoffs and experience. He can make plays and see plays. Playing with Hossa and anyone else could be the makings of something special.”

    One thing no one can question is Morrison’s leadership and work ethic. Everyone associated with his new team or his old one – Vancouver -- raved about his integrity as a player.

    “I was a big fan of Brendan,” Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said. “The knowledge of the game, the way he prepares was a great example for our group. He was a real piece of the foundation of this organization for a long time.”

    Morrison’s new captain echoed the same.

    “He’s always been known as a hard-working player,” Jonathan Toews said. “One of those character guys on the ice. For a guy that plays both ways in the middle, it’s going to be a huge help for our team.”

    The new lines

    With the addition of Morrison on the second line, Quenneville elected to move Marcus Kruger to wing and play him with Dave Bolland and Andrew Shaw. Jamal Mayers remained at center with Bryan Bickell and Andrew Brunette on the fourth line.

    Quenneville likes Kruger’s defense and this places him in a more prominent role playing beside Bolland. If Morrison doesn’t work out with Hossa and Sharp, then expect Kruger to return to that position.

    Quotable

  • “I think guys that tell you they don’t think about it are lying to you.” -- Morrison, on playing his career without winning a Stanley Cup.

  • “I kind of went into hiding. Put a Balaclava [ski mask] on.”-- Vancouver area native Morrison, on being traded to the Hawks.

  • “I don’t know how much more help he needs. He’s third in scoring in the league.” – Morrison, on what he can do to help Marian Hossa.

  • “It was almost like a wedding reception. I just stood in line as the team filed in the door.” -- Morrison, on meeting his new teammates on Monday.

  • “Was the highlight of the night. Hopefully Kaner saves the day tomorrow and swoops in for the rescue.” -- Toews on Patrick Kane's Superman costume from the skills challenge at All-Star weekend.

  • “I’m not calling him Super Kane.” -- Sharp

  • “Sometimes they are tougher than others. Whether it’s the economics of it sometimes you make business decisions.”--Quenneville on sending Jimmy Hayes to the minors.
  • SPONSORED HEADLINES

    TEAM LEADERS

    POINTS
    Patrick Sharp
    PTS GOALS AST +/-
    6 2 4 -1
    OTHER LEADERS
    GoalsP. Kane 3
    AssistsB. Saad 5
    +/-J. Oduya 3
    GAAA. Raanta 1.52