Blackhawks

Blackhawks: Artem Anisimov’s net-front presence paying dividends

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Blackhawks: Artem Anisimov’s net-front presence paying dividends

Artem Anisimov was planted right in front of Ottawa goaltender Craig Anderson, right where he needed to be to score off Michal Rozsival’s rebound shot.

For a guy who’s always felt comfortable as a net-front presence, it was another reward for being there.

“I’ve done that all my life because I was big, so I could try to go to the net. Because one time a coach said, ‘all the goals come at the net front,’” Anisimov said. “You can play outside the whole game long, but if you don’t go inside, nothing will happen.”

[RELATED - Blackhawks capitalize in 'low-chance affair' as Crawford blanks Sens]

The 6-foot-4 Anisimov has gone inside a great deal this season and has benefited from it. That includes Sunday, when Anisimov scored his fourth goal in his last six in the Blackhawks’ 3-0 victory over the Senators. He has 15 goals through his first 40 games with the Blackhawks; that’s just seven shy of his career best of 22, recorded with the Blue Jackets during the 2013-14 season.

“He’s been a perfect fit for us,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “He’s so responsible on the other side of the puck that the offense, to me, is a bonus. That line, with those two wingers being special players, they generate so much for our team game and sometimes he gets the finished product by being at the net like he was [Sunday].”

Anisimov shies away from the individual accolades. He’s more concerned with how he and his line mates Artemi Panarin and Patrick Kane are playing as a trio. Anisimov said the line has “had bumps in the road,” – albeit, not many – but that it’s playing better as of late.

Duncan Keith said Anisimov’s role with that group is underrated.

“I’m not taking anything away from the other two wingers because we know what they’ve done. But Arty, he’s been great,” Keith said. “He’s been huge for us, [with] his net presence and his board battles and getting the puck to Kane and Panarin.”

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As for Anisimov, bringing that net-front presence, no matter how physical it gets there, is enjoyable.

“It’s fun playing there,” he said. “Most of the goals scored from the net area, and I just try to go there and I have two great wingers who can make plays. I try to create space for them, go to the net, take away the goalie’s eyes and good things can happen.”

A lot of good has happened in Anisimov’s brief time with the Blackhawks. He’s solved their second-line center dilemma. Even more, he’s not afraid to plant himself in front of opposing goaltenders, and that has sparked his individual game as much as it’s benefited the team one.

“The rewards are there,” Quenneville said. “He’s done a lot for our team and one of the things is getting to the net.”

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

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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

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USA TODAY

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."