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Hawks have yet to find suitable replacement for Michael Frolik

Former Blackhawk Michael Frolik had an assist Winnipeg Jets’ lone goal Saturday. | Jonathan Kozub/Getty images

Former Blackhawk Michael Frolik had an assist on the Winnipeg Jets’ lone goal Saturday. | Jonathan Kozub/Getty images

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blackhawks 5, jets 1

BLACKHAWKS 1 3 1 — 5

Winnipeg 1 0 0 — 1

First Period—1, Winnipeg, Enstrom 2 (Halischuk, Frolik), 5:08. 2, HAWKS, Hjalmarsson 1 (Kruger), 9:58. Penalties—Bollig, HAWKS (tripping), 7:16; Byfuglien, Wpg (hooking), 7:37; Ladd, Wpg (slashing), 7:57.

Second Period—3, HAWKS, Bollig 2 (Kruger), :54. 4, HAWKS, Sharp 3 (Hossa, Leddy), 2:41. 5, HAWKS, Leddy 2 (Shaw, Morin), 5:49. Penalties—None.

Third Period—6, HAWKS, Smith 2 (Bollig, Keith), 9:13. Penalties—None.

Missed Penalty Shot—P.Kane, HAWKS 7:56 third.

Shots on Goal—HAWKS 10-7-8—25. Winnipeg 11-10-6—27.

Power-play opportunities—HAWKS 0 of 2; Winnipeg 0 of 1.

Goalies—HAWKS, Crawford 8-2-2 (27 shots-26 saves). Winnipeg, Pavelec 4-7-2 (14-10), Montoya (5:49 second, 11-10).

Referees—Tom Kowal, Greg Kimmerly. Linesmen—Bryan Pancich, Brad Lazarowich. A—15,004 (15,004). T—2:27.

sunday

flames at blackhawks

The facts: 6:30 p.m., CSN, 720-AM.

Updated: December 4, 2013 6:51AM



WINNIPEG, Manitoba — Joakim Nordstrom got the first crack at it. Michal Handzus got a long look. Ben Smith saw some time, too. Brandon Saad and Brandon Bollig have taken their turns. And Brad Mills appeared to be the next in line before he was injured.

Replacing Michael Frolik has been a lot harder than the Blackhawks possibly could’ve expected.

“I read about it a little bit,” Frolik said Saturday from his new home rink, the MTS Centre. “It’s nice to hear that they miss me.”

Of course, even Frolik said there’s no guarantee the Hawks would’ve continued to have one of the best penalty-killing units in the league had he still been in Chicago, still teaming with Marcus Kruger — using his mix of speed and fearlessness to block shots, clog lanes and kill plays. But it’s certainly more than just coincidence that the Hawks have dropped from third in the league last season (87.2 percent) to last this season (73.1 percent).

The Hawks managed what coach Joel Quenneville calls a “zero day” in the 5-1 rout Saturday of the Jets, but only because they were called for one penalty and were short-handed for 21 seconds.

The draft-day deal that sent Frolik to Winnipeg for two picks (a third-rounder and a fifth-rounder) left a void alongside Kruger that the Hawks have yet to fill.

“It’s been an area of concern right from the outset of our season,” Quenneville said. “We felt that just the way [Frolik] grabbed it last year — after not getting that chance for a couple of years, then all of a sudden he just took off with it. We felt it’s there for somebody [else] to grab, and it’s still a work in progress for us.”

Kruger had played on a line with Frolik in the 2011-12 season before Quenneville took a flyer on them becoming a top-flight penalty-killing tandem during last season’s five-day training camp. This year, Kruger’s trying to build that kind of on-ice relationship on the fly, with nearly half the forwards on the roster rotating in and out of Frolik’s old spot. It hasn’t been easy.

“That chemistry we had last year is hard to find,” Kruger said. “But we have a long year here, and I’m sure we’re going to sort it out. Maybe the PK hasn’t been what we want it to be, but we still have been winning games, and that’s more important. If we just can step that up, we’re going to be successful in the future.”

Frolik was the best Jet on the ice, embracing the more offensive role he has been given. He had an assist on the Jets’ lone goal, blocked three shots and created several good chances in his 16:30 of ice time — nearly double what he often got on the Hawks’ fourth line.

Frolik’s first game against his old team was overshadowed by Jonathan Toews’ first game against his boyhood team. But Frolik still deemed it a special game against a group of guys with whom he’ll have a lifetime bond.

He had dinner Friday night with Marian Hossa and Michal Rozsival and was glad to see “the boys” again. The Jets have a game Monday against the Red Wings, so Frolik won’t be able to join the Hawks on their trip to the White House (Dave Bolland of the Maple Leafs said he won’t be able to fit it in his schedule, either).

“The memories are there, and they will be there for the rest of your life — with those guys, with those coaches and the management,” Frolik said. “It’s something special I will never forget.”

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com

Twitter: @marklazerus



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