Artemi Panarin

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 5-1 win over Blue Jackets in Artemi Panarin's return to Chicago

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 5-1 win over Blue Jackets in Artemi Panarin's return to Chicago

Here are five takeaways from the Blackhawks' 5-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday night:

1. Brandon Saad stays hot.

We're not sure you could've scripted a better start for Saad in his second go-around with the Blackhawks. Fresh off a hat trick on Opening Night, the 24-year-old winger found himself on the scoresheet again — and early — when he potted Chicago's second goal (on the power play) against his former club 6:04 into the first period.

He also added an assist, and finished with seven shot attempts (five on goal) in the victory. 

"His quickness is the thing that's been very noticeable," Joel Quenneville said of Saad. "Quick to pucks, quick to beating the guy to the net. That line was excellent again tonight."

2. Nick Schmaltz injured again, and it'll sideline him this time.

For the second straight game, the Blackhawks lost their second-line center to an upper-body injury. Only this time, it will force him to miss some action. Just 1:33 into the game, Schmaltz got sandwiched in between two defenders charging hard to the net while Patrick Kane was receiving a pass that he eventually scored on.

Schmaltz stayed down for a little bit, then needed help from trainers to get off the ice. He did not return, despite coming back on the bench briefly later in the period, before heading back to the dressing room for good.

Quenneville said after the game that Schmaltz will "probably" not go on the team's upcoming road trip in Toronto and Montreal: "We're thinking maybe Thursday" for a potential return.

3. Jonathan Toews is on the board.

Just about everyone scored in the Blackhawks' season-opening 10-1 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins, except The Captain. That changed in Game No. 2, when Toews buried home his only shot of the game from new/old linemate Saad for his first goal of the season.

Toews also tallied an assist, and won an offensive zone draw that immediately led to a Richard Panik goal to get all three players from that line a tally.

Toews hasn't been shy about his intention to re-establish himself as an elite center, both on defense and offense, but especially the latter. If his line can continue playing the way it has been early on, his offensive numbers will start to come on a consistent basis.

4. Patrick Kane, Artemi Panarin just fine without each other (sort of).

Remember how some were wondering how these two would survive without each other? Well, they're doing just fine.

Kane added a goal and an assist in his second game, increasing his point total to six, while Panarin set a Blue Jackets record by recording three points in his team debut Friday night.

Panarin didn't get on the scoresheet against his former team, but his line had solid even-strength possession numbers — although he was on the ice for two of the Blackhawks' goals.

Do they miss playing with each other and toying with opponents? Sure. But they're both superstars in their own right, and don't need each other to prove just how great they are individually.

But they hit the city of Chicago right in the feels after Panarin shared the exchange — through an interpreter — he had with Kane at center ice during pregame warmups: "Patrick came by and said, 'Hey, I miss you' and I said 'I miss you too' and off we went. And then we lost 5-1."

5. Jan Rutta rewarded with first career NHL goal.

An underrated part of the Blackhawks' success in their first two games this season has been their defense. In 120 minutes, they haven't had any glaring defensive lapses or spent a lot of time in their own end.

Rutta, a 27-year-old rookie, is blending right in. He's registered a point in consecutive games to kick off his NHL career, and was rewarded with his first goal Saturday after pinching in to receive a nice backhand pass by Kane before wristing it past Blue Jackets goaltender Joonas Korpisalo.

Rutta also owns a plus-7 rating, which may not be a great stat but at least it indicates good things are happening when he's on the ice.

"Every game I’ve seen him play I’ve been impressed with him," Quenneville said. "It was a special pass that he received from Kaner on the play, nice finish but he does a lot of good things. His anticipation, his reach, his gap, his thinking are all high end. Looks like he’s been around here the way he plays the game. He gives us some experience back there the way he handles his own game."

Blackhawks showing why trading Artemi Panarin for Brandon Saad was necessary

Blackhawks showing why trading Artemi Panarin for Brandon Saad was necessary

The Artemi Panarin video tribute rolled during the first period on Saturday, the United Center crowd cheering and Panarin acknowledging the applause. It was a strong appreciation and understandably so; in two seasons here Panarin was outstanding, the Russian equal to line mate Patrick Kane in skill and creativity.

On the other bench was Brandon Saad, whom the Blackhawks reacquired in exchange for Panarin in late June. It was a surprise move – and to the two players involved. The Blackhawks loved Panarin, but they loved and needed Saad, whose power game was a notable absence the past two seasons.

There’s nothing wrong with missing Panarin. He put up impressive numbers with the Blackhawks and started his Columbus career off well with a three-assist night on Friday against the New York Islanders. But the Blackhawks kept him off the scoresheet on Saturday.

Meanwhile, Saad’s presence has been felt in two consecutive games, from his hat trick on Thursday to his two-point night (game-winning goal, assist) on Saturday. When camp opened Saad said it could take some time for he, Jonathan Toews and Richard Panik to gel. It really hasn’t. The top line, which combined for five points on Saturday, has become the top line again.

“His quickness is what’s been very noticeable: quick to pucks, quick to beating the guy to the net,” coach Joel Quenneville said of Saad. “That line was excellent again tonight. They all do a little something different but they’re all big, all can move and Saader sniffing out a loose puck right off the bat got us off to a good start.”

As Quenneville mentioned over the summer, finding line mates for Kane has rarely been a problem; no matter who Kane’s lined up with the points have usually come. There’s already been evidence of that, given Kane’s five points in two games. He’s found success with Nick Schmaltz and Ryan Hartman – and played some Artem Anisimov on Saturday after Schmaltz left with an upper-body injury. Kane talked on Saturday morning about missing Panarin but his ability to adjust to new line mates – and he did it plenty prior to the last two seasons – has made Panarin’s absence easier.

The reception Panarin got on Saturday was rousing and justifiably so. For two seasons Panarin showed the “wow” factor, as Quenneville often referred to it. Sure, it’d be great if they could both be on the same team but that pesky salary cap just won’t allow it. The Blackhawks loved Panarin. But they needed Saad.

“[Saad’s] probably added, whether it’s confidence or the ability to get his stick on pucks around the net, it seems really high-end right now. Great start for him,” Patrick Kane said. “We were saying he’s not a Man-Child anymore. He’s just a man.”

All the feels: Patrick Kane reflects on chemistry with Artemi Panarin

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USA TODAY

All the feels: Patrick Kane reflects on chemistry with Artemi Panarin

Patrick Kane watched on Friday night. Of course he did. It was Artemi Panarin’s Columbus Blue Jackets regular-season debut and Kane had to see what his former former linemate did.

Not surprisingly, it was a pretty good night for the Russian left wing.

“He looks like he normally does, smooth with the puck, very smooth carrying it up the ice,” Kane said. “Nothing new for him.”

There’s no doubt Kane still misses Panarin, with whom he had an undeniable chemistry from the start. They clicked as well off the ice, too, getting through the language barrier with a little help from Google translate. After being part of different combinations for a number of years Kane had line stability for two consecutive seasons. So yeah, he’s a little sentimental about that whole stable setup with him, Panarin and Artem Anisimov.

“It’s kind of, I guess, fun to look back. Maybe even a little sad to look back at the chemistry we had. But obviously time’s moved on now and you gotta adjust to certain players and make it with new linemates,” Kane said. “But for first game our team was pretty good.”

Whether or not Kane finds the same longstanding chemistry with Nick Schmaltz and Ryan Hartman remains to be seen but, entering Saturday’s game against the Blue Jackets, it’s off to a tremendous start. Kane benefitted from Schmaltz’s speed the way he used to Panarin’s creativity, the two clicking after working together for part of the summer and most of the preseason. And with Hartman providing the net-front presence Anisimov did the past two seasons, the production was there.

Still, there’s nothing wrong with Kane waxing sentimental on Panarin. It was a hell of a line to watch the past two seasons. Considering the Blue Jackets played on Friday, Kane probably won’t see Panarin until warmups on Saturday night. Maybe there’ll be some chatter, perhaps some chirping. Or maybe it’ll be simpler — “maybe even just looking at him or something like that.”

Kane, Schmaltz and Hartman had a good first game and there’s a chance the three could have a long, prosperous season together. Kane appreciated having two seasons’ worth of that with Panarin.

“He’s a really good kid, fun to get along with. We had plenty of battles on the bench where we were mad at each other but I think that’s a sign of a healthy relationship,” Kane said. “He was fun to have around.”