Between the Circles
Nikolai Khabibulin will make his Blackhawks re-debut Friday night when he gets the start in goal against the Islanders at the United Center.
It will be Khabibulin’s first game back with the Hawks since Game 3 of the 2009 Western Conference finals against Detroit. He re-signed with them as a free agent last summer for one year at $2 million after spending four years with Edmonton.
Because of the Hawks’ light early-season schedule, Khabibulin hasn’t played in a game this year since Sept. 28 against Washington in the exhibition finale.
Ben Smith will get his chance at right wing on the third line on Saturday when the Blackhawks face the Tampa Bay Lightning at the United Center.
It figures to be a back-and-forth platoon situation most of the season between Smith and Jimmy Hayes.
"It's part of the sport, part of the job," Smith said. "You're always competing against a lot of guys. It's not going to be just training camp. As I said during camp it's going to continue well on during the year and you just have to play your best everyday and hope the opportunities keep coming."
Hawks coach Joel Quenneville would like to get all 23 of his players into a game sooner than later.
Last season, the Blackhawks went into the Staples Center on opening day and spoiled the Kings' banner-raising ceremony by beating the then Stanley Cup champs.
The Hawks are hoping to avoid a similar letdown tonight at the United Center when they raise their banner of winning the Cup in 2013.
"Enjoy it because it's a special moment in your life, very memorable," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "At the same time, when that's over and they drop the puck it's time to play for keeps. Our guys have always responded in the right way to big challenges and big games and big moments."
So what will Quenneville be thinking watching the banner being raised to the rafters?
Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said Mike Kostka was a better fit on defense than Ryan Stanton because "offensively he really compliments our style of play."
Kostka won the eighth job on defense over Stanton, who was waived and claimed by the Vancouver Canucks on Monday.
"He's one of those defensemen who is useful as far as both sides of the puck," Quenneville said of Kostka. "He can give us some nice offense from the back end and is versatile and can defend well. He's very handy with the puck.
"Last year for the majority of the season (in Toronto), he was playing against the other team's top lines and handled it very well."
The Blackhawks took the safe route with Corey Crawford on Saturday after the goalie complained of stiffness in his lower body.
Rookie Antti Raanta was recalled from Rockford to back up Nikolai Khabibulin, who was to start the final preseason game against Washington at the United Center.
Hawks coach Joel Quenneville expects Crawford to be OK to start Tuesday’s regular season opener against the Capitals.
“It’s more precautionary than anything,” Quenneville said. “Crow should be fine.”
Quenneville isn’t worried that it will be more than a week since Crawford played a game.
“He’s been on the ice every day so he hasn’t missed any time,” Quenneville said. “He’ll be ready.”
Marian Hossa returned to practice Friday at his normal spot at right wing on the second line with Michal Handzus and Patrick Sharp.
Hossa has missed the entire Blackhawks preseason while nursing a sore back but feels like he will play in Tuesday's season opener against Washington.
"I definitely feel much better after the week off," Hossa said. "I took my time and the last few days and I feel much better. I went to the gym and did some stuff there. I skated on my own (Thursday) and woke up today feeling pretty good so it was time to go back with the team.
Joakim Nordstrom doesn't even have a regular stall in the Blackhawks' dressing room at Johnny's Ice House West, but he did have a regular spot on the fourth line at practice on Wednesday.
The 21-year-old Nordstrom, whose versatility and chemistry with fellow Swede Marcus Kruger improves his chances of making the team, wasn't reading anything into his fourth line status.
"Everything is a new experience," said Nordstrom, who finished last season playing 11 games at Rockford after competing in the Swedish Elite League. "I hang out a lot with (Kruger) and he helps me out. He's easy to play with and supports me both on and off the ice. That makes it a lot easier."
Nordstrom enjoys playing a defensive role and killing penalties.
In what might be a preview of things to come this season, Blackhawks winger Marian Hossa has aggravated an upper body injury and will miss at least the next four games.
It's believed to be Hossa's back, which sidelined him for Game 3 in the Stanley Cup Final. He participated in the first scrimmages of camp at Notre Dame last weekend and was one of the best players in the ice.
Hawks coach Joel Quenneville hopes Hossa can play in the final preseason game Sept. 28 against Washington and be ready to start the season on Oct. 1 against the Capitals.
The Hawks play at Washington on Friday, Detroit on Sunday and Pittsburgh on Monday. He also missed Thursday's game against the Penguins on Thursday.
Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman said Friday morning he was close to re-signing restricted free agent center Marcus Kruger.
A few hours later the Hawks announced that Kruger had signed a two-year contract.
Now general manager Stan Bowman can focus on getting coach Joel Quenneville signed to a contract extension.
Quenneville's deal runs out after next season and both side want to get it done as quickly as possible.
"We're going to work on that as well," Bowman said. "We've got some things we're going to get to. We've got the goaltending coach to replace Steph Waite. And we've got to finish off some of these (minor league) contracts."
Quenneville has won two Stanley Cups behind the Hawks' bench.
Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman tied up another loose end on Wednesday by getting defenseman Nick Leddy's name on as new two-year contract.
The 22-year-old Leddy would have become a restricted free agent on Friday.
"We are pleased to announce that Nick will remain a core member of our organization," Bowman said in a statement. "Over the course of the past three seasons, Nick has shown continuous development and we think he will be essential to our long-term success."
Leddy ranked third among Hawks defensemen this season 18 points (6 goals) and a plus-15 rating in 48 regular-season games. The Eden Prairie, Minn., native added 2 assists in 23 playoff games.
Leddy established career highs in goals, power-play goals (2) and game-winning goals (2).