By Mark Lazerus
The Blackhawks won’t specify what Nick Schmaltz’s “upper-body injury” is, but the nebulous time frame for his return and the shiner that’s still under his left eye five days after he was crunched between two Columbus Blue Jackets don’t leave a lot to the imagination. A team source said Schmaltz was still coping with the effects of the hit to the head.
Schmaltz wasn’t in the lineup on Thursday against the Minnesota Wild, the third straight game he missed. But he was back on the ice for the morning skate and is targeting a return Saturday against the Nashville Predators.
“Feel pretty good,” Schmaltz said. “Getting better every day, and hopefully I can get in there on Saturday.”
Schmaltz has been brilliant in his limited action so far, but left both of the first two games early with injuries. Now that he’s back at center, he’ll be carrying the puck more and might need to keep his head on a swivel.
“Maybe, I don’t know,” he said. “I think it was just a weird play where I saw [Patrick Kane] coming down and I just let the puck go, and the D-man slid over and got me. Stuff happens in the game, and I don’t think it was a dirty play. It was just kind of a tough situation.”
Murphy back in
Connor Murphy certainly didn’t expect to be a healthy scratch in just his fourth game with the Hawks. But with eight defensemen on the roster, he wasn’t entirely shocked when he was forced to watch the Montreal game in a suit. He was back in the lineup against Minnesota, with Cody Franson back out.
“You don’t want to be scratched ever, and obviously, it’s not anything you expect at first,” Murphy said. “But it’s just part of the business.”
The right side of the blue line was expected to be a problem area for the Hawks, but the surprisingly strong play of Jan Rutta and the signing of Franson have given the Hawks a glut of right-handed shots, ramping up the competition for ice time.
“I just want to see the team win, really,” Murphy said. “We got a good win in Montreal and I didn’t play. But if we’re winning and guys are playing well, that’s all that matters.”
Jordan Oesterle was a healthy scratch for the fifth straight game to open the season and could be headed to Rockford soon. The Hawks still like him, but they want him playing, not sitting. He would have to clear waivers to be sent down, which is a concern.
“It’s a pretty large stretch without getting some ice, especially at the beginning of the season,” head coach Joel Quenneville said. “You want to get everybody involved.”
After years of the same morning-skate routine, Quenneville has dramatically altered his morning skates. They’re much more like practices now, with special-teams work and 3-on-2s, not just line rushes and drills.
“We were sick and tired of those morning skates,” Quenneville said with a smile. “[The players] can get through those like nothing. It was kind of like, ‘OK, let’s change the recipe a little bit.’ ”
Defenseman Gustav Forsling was wearing a full face shield after taking a puck to the face late in the Montreal game. He said he needed 15 stitches, most of them on the inside of his mouth, but he didn’t lose any teeth.
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