Blackhawks

Be back soon? Blackhawks really missing Nick Schmaltz

schmaltz-1013.jpg
USA TODAY

Be back soon? Blackhawks really missing Nick Schmaltz

Nick Schmaltz skated around with his teammates on Thursday morning. It was an encouraging sign, given the nasty hit he took against the Columbus Blue Jackets last Saturday.

“Getting better every day,” said Schmaltz, sporting a shiner around his left eye. “Hopefully I can get in there on Saturday (vs. Nashville).”

When a player gets hurt the Blackhawks preach the same mantras as every other team: it’s an opportunity for someone else, others have to step up, insert next sports-ism here. But finding answers in Schmaltz’s absence hasn’t been as simple as plugging in another center on the second line, even someone as familiar with it as Artem Anisimov. Without Schmaltz, the line chemistry the Blackhawks hoped to have early on has diminished.

It’s a testament to the strides Schmaltz has taken, be it with his speed, playmaking or overall game, that the Blackhawks miss him this much. The second line’s dip in production is one thing but it goes beyond that. Right now the Blackhawks are a one-line team (the top line of Brandon Saad, Jonathan Toews and Richard Panik).

The Ryan Hartman, Anisimov and Patrick Kane combination had been so-so entering Thursday night, when coach Joel Quenneville wanted to give it another try vs. the Minnesota Wild – “we feel that line, there’s enough there to get it going and Kaner, you can still use him in other places with other lines and you can get something for the other team to be worried about as well,” Quenneville said on Thursday morning. But it still wasn’t yielding much. Considering Kane and Anisimov played the better part of two seasons together, it’s surprising that they haven’t connected now like they did in the past.

“It’s more like time apart. We played all training camp with different partners and we’re adjusting,” said Anisimov, who’s been the Blackhawks’ third-line center since the start of camp. “A little bit of chemistry is there but it’s not clicking like it’s supposed to be. We just need to find a way to get clicking again.”

By the third period on Thursday, however, Quenneville put Tanner Kero at second-line center with Hartman and Kane. Hartman scored his second goal of the season, with Kero and Kane assisting. It was something but again, the Blackhawks are back to making a number of line swaps to rekindle production.

“Yeah, [Schmaltz’s presence] brings a lot of balance. He’s got a lot of speed and it makes the defense second guess and have to back in a little bit, gives the wingers extra time and gives us a net drive,” Hartman said. “He’s definitely a key part to this team and our success and we’re looking forward to having him back soon.”

The Blackhawks are like any other team: if someone’s hurt, you have to find someone else to fill the void. But Schmaltz was a big part of that second line clicking and the Blackhawks are missing him a lot right now.

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: After 20 games, do we know the identity of this Blackhawks team?

sharpkanetoews.jpg
USA TODAY

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: After 20 games, do we know the identity of this Blackhawks team?

On the latest Hawks Talk Podcast Tracey Myers and Jamal Mayers join Pat Boyle to discuss the teams wins over the Rangers and Penguins.  Have they figured some things out and what is the identity of this team after 20 games?

Jammer weighs in on Artem Anisimov’s big week and are there enough Hawks committed to net front presence?  They also discuss the surging play of the blue liners and did the Hawks fail to send a message to Evgeni Malkin, after he kneed Corey Crawford in the head?

Blackhawks’ much-maligned power play is now clicking

patricksharp.png
USA TODAY

Blackhawks’ much-maligned power play is now clicking

It’s an annual rite of passage if you cover or are a fan of the Blackhawks: you question the power play, because there always seems to be an issue with the power play. You wonder why every season, given the talent on this team. And again this fall the power play has sputtered.

But a funny thing happened at the end of the weekend. The Blackhawks’ power play started to look good, started to generate chances and started to score. In 10 games prior to the Blackhawks’ Nov. 12 game against New Jersey they had just three power-play goals in 40 opportunities. In their last three games (vs. the Devils, New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins), they’ve tallied five goals on 13 opportunities.

So what’s been working?

“I’ll probably give you the same answer as when it wasn’t working: pucks to the net, guys in front,” Patrick Sharp said. “We have the shot mentality more so than just moving it around and getting it set up. You look at the goals we’ve scored, it’s nothing overly complicated. It’s just getting the puck to the net. Just stay with it.”

Sounds simple enough, but the stay-with-it part has probably been the toughest segment of the equation. When the Blackhawks slumped they really slumped, and their lack of confidence on the power play was as evident as their lack of scoring on it. Yes, stressing over it can have its affect; and when the Blackhawks got those two power-play goals against the Devils it seemed to be a release.

“You get one, that weight gets lifted off your chest a little bit, you can play a little loser and maybe not grip your stick as tight as when things weren’t going well,” Cody Franson said. “When you’re confident out there you’re moving the puck cleanly, things happen a little quicker for you and give you those better looks at good chances. When you’re not that confident sometimes you’re not executing as well and things were moving slower and you’re not generating too much. Confidence definitely plays a big part in it.”

So back to what’s working. The Blackhawks started becoming more active on the power play, cutting down on the passes and increasing the shots. They’ve been there for rebounds. They started feeding off the success, be it with the power play as a unit or with individual performances. Artem Anisimov has returned to being a force at the net again; of his five goals in his last three games, two are power-play goals.

“A couple of broken plays and sometimes you get some breaks. You win a faceoff and make a quick little play after a couple of great opportunities on the prior whistle there that didn’t go in. I just think shots at the net and traffic and off that, sometimes they go in,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “Our entries have always been alright this year, so we’re getting zone time and let’s get some simpler looks and sometimes they go in. I think gaining confidence there, it seems like we’re having the puck more and longer and sustaining some offense off it.”

The Blackhawks have struggled more than they’ve succeeded on the power play the last few seasons. But as their overall scoring has increased again, so has their power-play production. Good timing.

“People tend to say the power play can keep you in games and the penalty kill can win you games. Our penalty kill’s been great and has given us chances in a lot of games. [Corey Crawford’s] been playing pretty well,” Franson said. “And when our power play can give us success we find ourselves in better situations to try and win games.”