The Chicago Blackhawks want to start trending in the right direction before the playoffs and they'll get some welcomed help Saturday against the Calgary Flames. Center Marcus Kruger is making his return to the lineup after missing several months due to a left wrist injury, bolstering the Hawks' fourth line and penalty killing efforts at an opportune time.
Defense is one of the hallmarks of Kruger's game and his absence has been noticeable over the past few months. The Hawks' penalty kill has struggled badly at times and Joel Quenneville has clearly missed the ability to turn to Kruger's line for a lockdown defensive shift when needed. For Chicago to play its usual matchup games, Kruger -- one of the game's top defensive centers -- needs to be anchoring that fourth line. While guys like Dennis Rasmussen performed admirably, there's a reason why the Hawks signed Kruger to a lucrative three-year extension while he was hurt.
As for the rest of the group, Scott Darling will once again be in goal with Corey Crawford recovering from an undisclosed upper-body injury. Crawford didn't travel with the team. Hopefully this won't really linger into the playoffs because Chicago will need Crow at his best.
Flames | Record: 31-37-6 | 68 points | 5th in Pacific Division
The Flames are on the brink of being eliminated from playoff contention just a year after posting 97 points. That season was full of red flags regarding the sustainability of the team's performance, and even after making some major offseason moves like adding Dougie Hamilton, Calgary has indeed fallen back to earth this season.
The team is particularly rough on the defensive end. The Flames are at the bottom of the league in goals allowed per game and penalty kill efficiency, making this a ripe opportunity for the Hawks to find some offensive production. At 5-on-5, Calgary is 22nd in Corsi (47.9 percent) and 30th in save percentage (91.2 percent). Karri Ramo has been serviceable, but when he's been out, Jonas Hiller and Joni Ortio haven't quite cut it.
A poor power play -- 28th in the league -- coupled with Kruger's return should also give Chicago's penalty kill a chance to string together some stops.
Blackhawks: Corey Crawford
Flames: Dennis Wideman, Karri Ramo, Ladislav Smid, Deryk Engelland
How to watch
When: 9 p.m. CT
Where: Scotiabank Saddledome, Calgary