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Blackhawks’ Michael Frolik finally finding niche after bumpy arrival

The Hawks’ Michael Frolik (left) celebrates his second-period goal against Penguins during Thursday’s 4-1 loss. | JustK. Aller~Getty Images

The Hawks’ Michael Frolik (left) celebrates his second-period goal against the Penguins during Thursday’s 4-1 loss. | Justin K. Aller~Getty Images

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Michael Frolik put a nice move on Penguins defenseman Zbynek Michalek and then beat goalie Brent Johnson for a goal halfway through the second period. Brandon Saad, a Pittsburgh-area native, had two shots. “It’s awesome to play in any game in the NHL, but to be back home makes it more exciting,” said Saad, the 43rd pick in the 2011 draft.

The goalie battle

Coach Joel Quenneville said it was unfair to judge Ray Emery (15 saves) by the four goals he allowed in the third period. He did see 14 shots in the period as the Hawks made mistakes defensively. Alexander Salak got the start and wasn’t tested much, making eight saves.

The quote

“I actually felt better tonight than I did the other night [against the Edmonton Oilers]. I’ve got to try and control rebounds and deflections. I thought it was a tough-luck situation. But you can always find things to improve on.” – Emery

Updated: November 10, 2011 5:26PM

PITTSBURGH — Sometime next week, Michael Frolik will finally be lounging on his own couch, sleeping in his own bed and enjoying every other comfort home brings.

The winger is looking forward to life in Chicago after signing a three-year, $7 million deal with the Blackhawks this summer. Like he often said last season, Chicago is a lot different than Florida, where his career began with the Panthers before the Hawks acquired him for Jack Skille.

“There are so many nice places to live here, so many good choices,” Frolik said. “I just need my furniture from Florida.”

What’s really important is how comfortable Frolik has become in the Hawks system. He’s a big piece going forward — hence, the three-year deal — and, if all goes right, a productive season could be in the works.

Frolik flashed his offensive potential, scoring the Hawks’ only goal Thursday against the Pittsburgh Penguins in a 4-1 loss in exhibition play at the CONSOL Energy Center.

“I got a one-on-one and I just tried to move to the middle and shoot it,” Frolik said. “Physically, I feel pretty good. I feel strong in the corners. Just as the games go on, I feel better and better.”

Frolik has two 21-goal seasons on his resume from his Panthers days.

But last season he landed in a 32-game goal drought despite having plenty of quality looks when he joined the Hawks. Coach Joel Quenneville even said at the time that Frolik appeared to be tense in scoring situations.

It didn’t help that the 23-year-old Czech was thrust into new roles when he was acquired by the Hawks and that his new team was in a dogfight for their playoff lives. After playing only wing in Florida, he saw games at center. After being a top scoring threat for the Panthers, he was used in defensive roles.

“I was kind of down a little because I couldn’t score,” Frolik, the 10th overall pick in 2006, said. “It was a tough season. I had a long stretch without a goal. It was a strange year.

“Everything was new for me and the system a little bit. It kind of takes time to settle things down. The coaches and the players helped me a lot. They told me not to worry about the goals, just play your game and just play hard. In the end, it turned around.”

It did get better. He had three goals and nine points in 28 games for the Hawks in the regular season. But in his first playoff experience, he recorded two goals, five points and a plus-3 rating in seven games against the Vancouver Canucks.

Frolik had found a home with center Dave Bolland on the Hawks’ checking line with winger Bryan Bickell. Frolik was finally “comfortable,” as he likes to say, in the system. It took some time, but he understood his responsibilities and had a better feel for his teammates.

“He’s had a real good camp and he’s got a lot of pace to his game,” Quenneville said. “He’s a very skilled guy. He’s got a lot of ability. We didn’t see it initially [last season]. It’s nice to see him progress to that level where all of sudden he’s a threat every time he’s on the ice.”

Frolik likely will start with Bolland this season while being ready for the changes that Quenneville always makes. A 20-plus-goal season is a real possibility for him.

“When you’re with the team from the start, it’s hopefully going to be [better],” Frolik said. “We’ll see how it goes. I think I’m prepared.”

It won’t hurt that his home is no longer a downtown hotel room. His furniture arrives Friday, he moves next week and his girlfriend will live with him.

“Every day I feel more comfortable here,” Frolik said. “It’s nice to be settled in and comfortable so everything goes well.”

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