Kruger has more than defensive game

May, 9, 2014
May 9
4:17
PM CT
Powers By Scott Powers
ESPNChicago.com
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ST. PAUL, Minn. -- If there was a survey to determine the Chicago Blackhawks most likely to pull off a between-the-legs pass, Marcus Kruger wouldn't likely be near the top of the list.

But there Kruger was Tuesday retrieving a loose puck in the slot, putting it on his forehand for a moment, then quickly onto his backhand and sliding it through his legs to Patrick Sharp behind him. One Minnesota Wild defender was fooled by the move, but a second one just was able to get to Sharp before he put a shot on net.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Kruger, Ilya Bryzgalov
Cal Sport Media/AP ImagesMarcus Kruger rarely has the chance to show off his offensive game.
It's a high-end move most wouldn't expect from Kruger, but his teammates know he has that sneaky ability.

"I think he's got great skill offensively," Sharp said. "I think he's a perfect example of why our team's successful, because he's got the ability to make those plays, but for the most part he's asked to play a different role. You've seen some of the plays he's made, whether he's creating scoring chances, whether it's in the neutral zone, whether it's 200 feet from his net, he's got the ability and the vision to make great plays."

The main reason people don't know of Kruger's offensive game is because he rarely has a chance to show it. He's coach Joel Quenneville's defensive staple. Of Kruger's 937 zone starts in the regular season, he started 13.6 percent of the time in the offensive zone. He started 50.7 percent in the defensive zone. He's also the Blackhawks' top penalty-killing forward.

Kruger will be given a more offensive role come Game 4 of the Blackhawks' second-round series against the Wild on Friday. He's being bumped up to second-line center to play alongside Brandon Saad and Patrick Kane. Kruger also played on the second line for a short stint during the regular season.

Quenneville is confident Kruger can contribute on both ends on the second line.

"Kruges is one of those guys, you look at him, I don't think we give him much of an opportunity in that situation, that role or that realm, that all of a sudden he sees plays, he makes plays," Quenneville said. "We had him on the power play a few years back. He's one of those guys who is capable of doing that, and he has that ability of recognizing people around him offensively and has play selection.

"So, he's playing with a couple really skilled guys. I think at the same time there's reasons why he's on that line that gives that dependability defensively as well. But he is one of those guys in tight he sees and makes plays that he doesn't get credit for."

Kruger looks forward to being able to showcase his offensive game more, but he also understands his defense is still essential.

"You always want to score goals," said Kruger, who had eight goals in 81 regular-season games this season. "Winning and scoring goals is fun. At the same time, I'm not going to change my game too much. Even if I play with those guys it's still the same game, and I'm going to play both ways and keep it the same.

"I don't really think about [not having many offensive zone starts.] In the playoffs, it's not about that. It's about winning games. I feel comfortable starting in our own end, and I've been doing that a lot so it's something I'm familiar with."

As for that between-the-legs pass? Kruger didn't make a big deal about it. He did what he had to do.

"That's something that just happened, something I felt like I had to do that to make a play," he said.
Scott Powers is a general reporter for ESPNChicago.com. He is an award-winning journalist and has been reporting on preps, colleges and pros for publications throughout the Midwest since 1997.

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Patrick Sharp
PTS GOALS AST +/-
8 3 5 0
OTHER LEADERS
GoalsP. Sharp 3
AssistsP. Sharp 5
+/-D. Keith 2
GAAC. Crawford 1.66