Be back soon? Blackhawks really missing Nick Schmaltz


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 edge out Senators in shootout: 'It was really nice to get a win'

Blackhawks edge out Senators in shootout: 'It was really nice to get a win'

It was a rare sight to see the Blackhawks in a shootout on Wednesday night.

It was just the second time this season — and first time at the United Center — that the Blackhawks made it past 3-on-3 overtime. 

The last came on Dec. 2, 2017, a 3-2 shootout loss to the Stars in Dallas. On Wednesday night, the Blackhawks were on the other end, beating the Ottawa Senators 3-2 in a seven-round shootout. Nick Schmaltz netted the game-winner.

"We'll take it," coach Joel Quenneville said. "I thought we had a decent game tonight. Overtime not so good, I liked the shootout victory, Fors made some big saves for us particularly as the game got deeper. Our third was OK, I thought our first two were way better, and overtime we gave up some high quality, some bells were rings for a bit there. But it was nice to see the shootout win."

Patrick Kane had a goal and an assist, recording another multi-point game, his 16th of the season.

"I mean we need every point we can get at this point," Kane said. "There's still belief in this locker room. Obviously we need to go on quite a run and have a big record here down the stretch. But take it a game at a time and nice to get two points."

Anton Forsberg was a big reason the Blackhawks even recorded those two points. The 25-year-old netminder stopped 34 of 36 shots and made a handful of big saves down the stretch.

"It was really nice to get a win for sure," Forsberg said. "I would love to have a lot more wins, but right now just gotta look forward and get as many wins as possible."

Added Quenneville: "I think it was good for him to win a game the way he did. Lot of shots were on the line, as we progressed, got deeper, hitting the point first was big for him and for us and then finding a way to get the extra one was a good win."

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Senators

NBC Sports Chicago

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Senators

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Ottawa Senators tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. Trade chips.

The Blackhawks have reached the point in their season where they have no choice but to become sellers before the Feb. 26 deadline, and we saw that when they traded Michal Kempny to the Washington Capitals on Monday for a conditional third-round pick in 2018. Tommy Wingels could also be an attractive piece for a team looking to fill out their depth.

The Senators will definitely be sellers, and wow do they have some names potentially on the market that can fetch large returns: Derrick Brassard and Mike Hoffman are two players who log top-six minutes on a nightly basis and also have term left on their contract, which is great for teams looking to load up for this year and beyond.

The biggest name to watch, probably in the league altogether, is Erik Karlsson, who could be on the move if a team offers a big enough package for the Senators to pull the trigger now as opposed to in the offseason if they feel him re-signing is a long shot. He was the best defenseman last season, and if a team steps up to get him, they're getting two possible postseason runs out of him.

2. Artem Anisimov's experiment at left wing not working.

Joel Quenneville has tried rekindling the magic between Anisimov, Nick Schmaltz and Patrick Kane as of late, only this time Anisimov is playing the wing and it just hasn't been very effective. The trio was on the ice for each of the two 5-on-5 goals the Kings scored on Monday, and Anisimov completely lost his man on the first one.

It's important to establish a consistent left winger for Schmaltz and Kane, and maybe putting Alex DeBrincat up there is something you consider going forward as part of a long-term solution. Move Anisimov back down as the third-line center to play in more of a defensive role and continue using his big body on power plays for his offensive abilities might be the best bet.

3. Win the special teams battle.

In their last meeting against Ottawa on Jan. 9, the Blackhawks went 4-for-6 on the power play and 4-on-4 on the penalty kill in an 8-2 win. And those are two areas to look out for again.

The Senators own the 28th-ranked power play with a 16.1 percent success rate and 29th-ranked penalty kill with a 74.5 percent success rate. Get ready for another offensive outburst?