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Thin center leads Blackhawks to try Patrick Kane at center

Henrik Zetterberg Alexander Salak

Henrik Zetterberg, Alexander Salak

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RED WINGS 4, blackHAWKS 3 (SO)

The highlights

Brandon Pirri scored two goals, including a short-handed goal with a long blast, and was the only Hawk to score in the shootout. Jimmy Hayes showed off his hands with a score after a nice pass from Ben Smith.

The goalie battle

Alexander Salak played his first full exhibition game and made 30 saves, looking big during some of them. But he allowed goals to Todd Bertuzzi and Henrik Zetterberg (albeit on great moves) in his first shootout.

The quote

“I thought he was good in today’s game. He had an excellent second period and was real strong in the third. I thought he did a real good job. . . . We like what we see. Organizationally, he’s done a nice job for us.” — coach Joel Quenneville on Salak.

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Updated: December 1, 2011 5:27AM

DETROIT — There’s no denying the Blackhawks have a handful of versatile forwards and that they’re a good team because of it. But as talented as Patrick Sharp is and as good as veteran
Jamal Mayers may prove to be as a fourth-line center, having only true two centers could become a problem.

The Hawks will need rookie center Marcus Kruger to be the player they’ve billed him as — or at least close to it.

Meanwhile, the need has reached the point where coach Joel Quenneville is going to try star winger Patrick Kane in the middle this preseason.

Quenneville made that unexpected declaration after the Hawks lost 4-3 in a shootout against the Detroit Red Wings in exhibition play Sunday at Joe Louis Arena.

‘‘It’s something we’re going to at least take a look at,’’ Quenneville said. ‘‘He was not complaining.’’

Kane’s involvement should put more pressure on Kruger, a natural but unproven center who has progressed slowly.

Kruger’s game, the Hawks say, is sound defense and making smart plays. Kruger says the toughest thing this preseason has been adjusting to playing with different players nearly every day.

How well he complements others is one of the deciding factors in whether he starts the year with the Rockford IceHogs.

‘‘Letting him see a full training camp [and] getting used to the players, the coaches can see what he can do when he’s had time a whole training camp,’’ general manager Stan Bowman said. ‘‘We’ll see how it goes. I don’t look at it as, ‘Can he do this one specific skill?’ As a centerman, Marcus is going to have to be reliable at both ends of the rink.’’

Against the Red Wings, Kruger, the 149th overall pick in 2009, started on a line with Bryan Bickell and Michael Frolik — two-thirds of Dave Bolland’s effective line during the playoffs last season. He then centered Daniel Carcillo and Jamal Mayers, potentially a fourth line this season, during the second and third periods. Kruger was on the ice for power-play goals by Valtteri Filppula and Nicklas Lidstrom. He played 15:57, finishing with three shots and winning five of eight faceoffs.

‘‘I thought he played better as the game went on, and I think he’s been OK this camp,’’ Quenneville said. ‘‘He can make plays and sees plays. But I think the quickness thing and the strength thing is something he’s going to have to improve on.’’

Kruger said his goal was to be a second-line center at some point with the Hawks. But his offensive skill set has yet to produce results. He has yet to record a point in three preseason games.

He was a minus-4 in seven regular-season games last season, which included time with Marian Hossa. Kruger recorded his first and only point in the playoffs against the Vancouver Canucks,
assisting on a goal by Duncan Keith in Game 5 of their first-round series.

‘‘I hope I have a spot,’’ Kruger said. ‘‘That’s what I’ve worked for. We will see. But I’m confident. I’ll just play my game. That’s it. That’s all I can do. The rest is up to the coaches.’’

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