Adjustments made, Artem Anisimov is back to being effective center for Blackhawks


Adjustments made, Artem Anisimov is back to being effective center for Blackhawks

Artem Anisimov was at his usual spot in front of the net on Wednesday night, scoring a goal that was as necessary for his confidence as it was to help the Blackhawks’ lagging power play.

In his first two seasons with the Blackhawks Anisimov’s net-front presence, and the production that came from it, was fairly regular – 20 goals in 2015-16 and 22 in 2016-17. But Anisimov didn’t look the same and wasn’t as effective to start this season – at least until lately. Now coming off three games in which he’s had a goal in each, Anisimov is back to being the effective center the Blackhawks need him to be.

“I feel much better because I have more puck and I make more plays and feel confident,” Anisimov said following Friday’s practice.

Coach Joel Quenneville said Anisimov has been, “way, way better” in his last three games.

“He’s been way more effective having the puck more, carrying the puck he has more pace to his game,” he said. “He did a great job on the net-front goal the other day by being in the right spot, but certainly his game and the pace has really picked up. It’s such a big improvement in our team game when you add his presence in the middle of the ice.”

Some of it was adjusting to new line mates. Centering Artemi Panarin and Patrick Kane the past two seasons, Anisimov would throw the puck to Kane, get to the net, let Kane and Panarin work their magic and be ready for any rebounds or tip/deflection chances that came his way. Now with Patrick Sharp and John Hayden, Anisimov is back to being the main puck carrier. It’s a readjustment, but Anisimov is finding his form again.

“Right now it’s a little bit easier,” Anisimov said. “We play already four games together with Sharpie and Hayds, and you kind of get used to it and get to know each other better. It’s making the game easier.”

So does having more confidence. Struggling to score as much as others through this recent stretch, Anisimov looked like he was lacking that necessary confidence. Three goals in as many games isn’t a massive scoring streak, but it does lend a boost.

Anisimov has worked through some changes this season, from line mates to where he’s at in the lineup to resuming a true center role. It took a little time, but it looks like he’s regaining his form.  

“You lose two wingers like you had, that was a pretty great position to be in playing with two of the best in the game. So maybe there are some adjustments there. But he can still be a position to be playing with some top guys as we’re going along as well,” Quenneville said. “I don’t think he’s complaining with who he’s playing with now, and I think with Arty, that big middle center you like, gives you some options when he’s playing like that.”

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks hit road to face Blue Jackets

NBC Sports Chicago

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks hit road to face Blue Jackets

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Columbus Blue Jackets tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. One big reunion.

The Blackhawks will square off with the Blue Jackets for the first time since Oct. 7, which was the second game of the season. In that game, they won 5-1 led by Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Brandon Saad, each of whom scored a goal and added an assist.

Of course, that was the first game since the offseason trade that sent Artemi Panarin to Columbus and Saad back to Chicago, along with Anton Forsberg. Artem Anisimov, of course, was part of the original deal that sent Saad to Columbus in 2015, so there are a lot of emotional ties between the two teams.

Forsberg didn't get a chance to face the Blue Jackets in the first meeting, but there's a chance he will this time with it being the second of a back-to-back and Jean-Francois Berube getting the start in Friday's 3-1 win over San Jose.

2. Panarin and Kane bromance.

The emotions of a difficult break-up have probably died down by now, but Panarin and Kane gave us this moment at center ice during pregame warmups in their first game against each other and it hit Chicago right in the feels:

Panarin has spent enough time apart from Kane for people to realize how big of a star he is in his own right, leading the Blue Jackets in all three scoring categories: goals (17), assists (32) and points (49).

He hasn't gone more than three games this season without recording a point, and is looking to extend his point streak to four games, which would tie a season high.

3. Struggling Blue Jackets special teams.

The Blue Jackets got off to a great start but are barely clinging onto a wild card spot going into Saturday's game, and a big reason for that slide is their lack of success on special teams. Usually one can pick up the slack for the other, but they've been brutal in both departments.

The Blue Jackets are 0-for-9 on the power play in their past five games and are ranked 31st overall, converting on only 14.1 percent of their opportunities. They also have own the 27th-ranked penalty kill with a 76.3 percent success rate.

So if there's an area the Blackhawks can exploit, it's that. But, you know, still be mindful of that Russian winger's one-timer from the faceoff circle.

Jean-Francois Berube impressed in his first Blackhawks start


Jean-Francois Berube impressed in his first Blackhawks start

Jean-Francois Berube got his first start of the season on Friday night, and it couldn't have gone any better.

The 26-year-old goaltender stopped 42 of 43 shots, a career-high for him in saves, in the Blackhawks' 3-1 win over the San Jose Sharks at the United Center.

Since Corey Crawford went down with a head injury last December, the Blackhawks have been searching for consistency in the crease. 

The pair of Anton Forsberg and Jeff Glass — who was assigned to Rockford on Feb. 15 and replaced with Berube — have had their ups and downs since then. With the Blackhawks out of the playoff picture, Berube had an opportunity showcase his skills, and he didn't disappoint.

"We were very happy with him," said coach Joel Quenneville. "I thought he did a great job. He was comfortable. I thought he was very patient in his net. Absorbing a lot of pucks with people in front of him was good. Closed some gaps and got … of the top of the paint. Rebound control was effective. Nice response from a long absence."

Berube's last — and only — appearance with the Blackhawks prior to Friday's game came on Dec. 6, relieving Forsberg in a game against the Washington Capitals. He recorded 12 saves of 14 shots. 

When Crawford got injured, Berube was the primary candidate to become the team's backup goaltender. The only problem? He was injured too, so the Blackhawks promoted Glass.

"I didn't want to sit and think about it," Berube said of his injury. "At the same time, it was great for Glasser. He was one of those guys that probably deserved it earlier in his career and he finally got his chance. Sometimes you need a guy to go down to have your chance. So I was mostly happy for him.

On Friday night, he got his chance.

"You always want to have a good impression for your first game," Berube said. "I know what I can do at this level, so it was just a matter of getting the opportunity to play and showing people what I can do."

Celebrating his 22nd birthday, Nick Schmaltz also had a goal and an assist. Artem Anisimov scored an empty-netter.

"It's a lot more fun coming to the rink when you're winning, enjoying each other, playing well as a team," Schmaltz said of the Blackhawks' win, which have now won three of their last four games. "Hopefully we can keep that good energy and bring it to the rink every day, and build off of that.

"You never know where this team can go, a lot of great players, lots of guys that have had a lot of success. Hopefully we can continue to put together solid efforts."