Marcus Kruger (Steve Woltmann/NHLI via Getty Images)
The Blackhawks are going to get a big defensive boost Saturday when Marcus Kruger returns to the lineup after 41 games on the shelf with a wrist injury. Kruger, 25, dislocated his wrist in December when he crashed into the boards.
The Blackhawks have only won once in their past seven outings and are limping towards a post-season berth, but things are looking up as far as getting healthy ahead of an important four-game road trip that starts Saturday.
When Chicago visits the Calgary Flames to kick off the road trip, they’ll have center Marcus Kruger back in the lineup for the first time in 41 games. Kruger, 25, has missed half the campaign following a left wrist dislocation that required surgery to repair. Originally, Kruger was scheduled to miss four months, but his Saturday return will mark only 14 weeks since he fell injured.
The injury came back on Dec. 18 in a contest against the Edmonton Oilers, when Kruger went crashing into the boards with his wrists and legs taking the brunt of the impact:
Kruger’s statistics aren’t exactly wowing, but his contributions to the Blackhawks’ success aren’t necessarily measured on the scoresheet. In 320 games, Kruger has 28 goals and 85 points, but the Swedish pivot has been a defensive stalwart. He has started more than 50 percent of his shifts over the past four seasons, and is one of only three NHL regulars to have that type of slant to their starts.
Comparing Kruger to the other two players with similar zone starts — Paul Gaustad and Boyd Gordon — and it’s clear the impact the Blackhawks center can have in his return to the lineup. Kruger has started 51.1 percent of his 5-on-5 shifts over the past four seasons in the defensive zone, but has maintained a shot attempts for percentage of 52.2 percent. Gaustad and Gordon have both started 55-plus percent of their shifts in the defensive zone, but neither has a shot attempts for percentage with five percent of Kruger’s.
One area where Kruger’s return should have an immediate impact is on the penalty kill. Before he went down, Chicago ranked 11th in the league with an 82.4 percent penalty kill allowing 16 goals in 91 times shorthanded. Without Kruger, Chicago’s penalty kill is 28th in the league at 76 percent, with 29 goals against over 121 penalty kills.
In the off-season, Kruger signed a one-year, $1.5 million extension, but management made clear how much they value his impact on Chicago’s success during their current run of success by inking him to a three-year, $9.25-million deal while Kruger was still recovering from injury.
(All advanced statistics via Puckalytics.com)