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Corey Crawford returns, Alex DeBrincat moves to the top line as Blackhawks host Sabres

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It’s the first game of a three-game homestand for Chicago.

Anaheim Ducks v Chicago Blackhawks Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

It’s time for some home-cooking at the United Center just in time for the holidays.

The Chicago Blackhawks’ next three games are at home, starting with Friday night’s game against the basement-dwelling Buffalo Sabres.

The morning skate brought some big news. Corey Crawford took the bulk of the work, then coach Joel Quenneville later confirmed that Crawford is returning from injured reserve and starting against the Sabres.

But that wasn’t the only big news from the morning skate. Rookie phenom Alex DeBrincat has (FINALLY!) been promoted to the top line, skating on the right wing of Jonathan Toews and Brandon Saad. There’s some mystery surrounding the rest of the lineup, with Tanner Kero going on waivers ahead of an apparent demotion to the Rockford IceHogs. Vinnie Hinostroza got the ensuing promotion, although where he’ll fit into the lineup won’t be known until the pregame line rushes. Quenneville did confirm that Hinostroza would be in the lineup. Candidates for healthy scratches include Ryan Hartman and Richard Panik, who are both mired in dreadful scoring slumps.

For the Sabres, meanwhile, it’s a 7-17-4 record and just 18 points accrued this season, the worst marks in the league.

Buffalo opened the season with a five-game losing skid, and went seven games without picking up a win during November.

There is some firepower in the lineup, though. Evander Kane is quietly having one of the best starts of his career, with 13 goals and 12 assists in 28 games played. Young phenom Jack Eichel has 22 points, and it’s worth keeping an eye on him when he’s on the ice at even strength.

Elsewhere, Ryan O’Reilly has 18 points (although a dreadful minus-17 rating) and veteran Jason Pominville has 15 points. If you want to know where it’s all gone wrong for the Sabres, though, look towards the net. Neither Robin Lehner nor Chad Johnson (not the Ochocinco one) have been able to make consistent stops, with that duo combining for a cringe-inducing .898 SA% and a 3.17 goals-against average. The defenders in front have certainly not helped, but no team is going to get by in the NHL when goalies can’t stop 90% of the shots they face and are giving up 3+ goals per night.

While there’s still some mystery surrounding the Blackhawks lineup for tonight, there’s no mystery of what needs to happen on Friday and over the next few days. With three games upcoming against some of the league’s basement-dwellers, four points are the absolute minimum of what Chicago must obtain between now and Tuesday. Six points is not an outrageous expectation, either. With a tough six-game road trip awaiting at the end of this month, the time is now for fattening up against struggling opponents.

FYI: the Hawks’ lineup below is made with the assumption that Panik is scratched for Hinostroza.

Blackhawks

Position Players
Position Players
F1 Brandon Saad - Jonathan Toews - Alex DeBrincat
F2 Nick Schmaltz - Artem Anisimov - Patrick Kane
F3 Patrick Sharp - Ryan Hartman - Vinnie Hinostroza
F4 Lance Bouma - Tommy Wingels - John Hayden
D1 Duncan Keith - Cody Franson
D2 Connor Murphy - Brent Seabrook
D3 Gustav Forsling - Jan Rutta
Goaltender Corey Crawford

Sabres

Position Players
Position Players
F1 Evander Kane - Jack Eichel - Jason Pominville
F2 Jordan Nolan - Johan Larsson - Sam Reinhart
F3 Benoit Pouliot - Ryan O'Reilly - Hudson Fasching
F4 Scott Wilson - Evan Rodrigues - Kyle Okposo
D1 Marco Scandela - Rasmus Ristolainen
D2 Jake McCabe - Zach Bogosian
D3 Josh Gorges - Viktor Antipin
Goaltender Robin Lehner

How to watch Blackhawks vs. Sabres

Start time: 7:30 p.m. CT

Location: United Center, Chicago

TV: NBC Sports Chicago Plus