Blackhawks

Blackhawks tidbits: Anisimov on the move, DeBrincat in the 'lottery spot'

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USA TODAY

Blackhawks tidbits: Anisimov on the move, DeBrincat in the 'lottery spot'

There are very few things ever set in stone but entering this training camp, Artem Anisimov at second-line center was as solid a bet as you could make. But Nick Schmaltz’s strong camp has coach Joel Quenneville thinking, tinkering and considering the 21-year-old for that spot alongside Patrick Kane.

A bit of a surprise, for sure, but Quenneville likes the chemistry of Schmaltz and Kane, who have been skating together for part of the summer. As for Anisimov, if he’s the third-line center, he won’t sulk or change his game.

“I’m just going to go out and play and try to score goals and make plays,” he said following Sunday’s scrimmages.

Anisimov is back to 100 percent after admitting he wasn’t that when the Blackhawks entered the first-round series against the Nashville Predators last spring. The center had suffered a leg injury vs. Montreal in mid-March that sidelined him until Game 1 of the playoffs. He’s ready to go after the long offseason, although who his playing partners will be is now somewhat up in the air. On Sunday Anisimov centered Ryan Hartman and Patrick Sharp as Quenneville continues to look at options, not only for the top two lines, but to bolster bottom-six depth as well.

“I think every team needs good depth at center and have a strong three or four lines,” Anisimov said. “It’s helpful in a team game.”

DEBRINCAT’S CHANCE

Alex DeBrincat teamed with Patrick Kane and Nick Schmaltz during Sunday’s scrimmages, as Quenneville gave the 19-year-old a chance in what he’s calling this season’s “lottery spot.” It was just a first glance at the trio but Quenneville liked what he saw.

“The upside of that could be really big,” said Quenneville. “He’s one of those guys who his instincts are high and he’s playing with a couple of guys who have the same type of instincts. The reading and anticipation off plays, communicating without having to communicate, they know where it’s going to go next and that’s something that will only get better as they get accustomed to playing together.”

Quenneville added that, “we’ll have a couple of days to look at him a little more.” The Blackhawks’ first preseason game is Tuesday against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

ROZSIVAL’S STATUS

General manager Stan Bowman said on Friday that defenseman Michal Rozsival did not pass his training-camp physical. Quenneville specified on Sunday that Rozsival has an upper-body injury. Asked if Rozsival could miss the season, Quenneville said, “we’ll see.”

Lean on Me: Blackhawks' goalies providing necessary support

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AP

Lean on Me: Blackhawks' goalies providing necessary support

For Corey Crawford, it’s all working pretty well right now. Good anticipation? Check. Lack of rebounds? Check. That glove, which used to draw so much criticism? It’s looking alright, too.

“He’s gotten off to a great start for us,” coach Joel Quenneville said following the Blackhawks’ 2-1 overtime victory over the Nashville Predators on Saturday. “Can’t say enough good things about him.”

While the Blackhawks reconfigure lines to relocate early production and swap right-handed defensemen in and out of the lineup, there has been one constant: their goaltending, particularly Crawford, has been (as Quenneville likes to say) reliable and dependable.

After a barrage of goals in their first two games the Blackhawks have leaned on their goaltenders more in the past four contests. Good thing that Crawford and Anton Forsberg have been up to it. Since he’s started all but one game thus far, let’s look specifically at Crawford: through Sunday afternoon he was tied for first in the NHL in victories (four, with several other goaltenders) and led the league in save percentage (.960) and goals-against average (1.39).

“I feel pretty good. I’m reading the play well, I think,” Crawford said on Saturday night. “Not too many second opportunities, either. If they are, they’re more to the side and I’m just seeing it well and not being overly aggressive. I’m waiting for the chance to be aggressive.”

Crawford has been sharp and busy. Through his five starts Crawford has faced 174 shots (34.8 per game). Only three other NHL goaltenders have faced more (Mike Smith has seen 211 shots through six games, Jake Allen 180 through five and Andrei Vasilevskiy 179 through five). On Saturday Crawford credited the Blackhawks’ defense for the Predators taking more shots from the outside. Sure, but opponents have had their share of odd-man rushes, breakaways and scrums in front of the net.

“I like him around the net,” Quenneville said. “He’s cutting off plays that they’re trying to make that could generate even more chances. His anticipation in that area has been outstanding, he’s been moving the puck well, he’s square and it seems like he’s very involved. A lot of good things have happened in a couple of games but Crow’s been rock solid.”

The Blackhawks are trying to find the right lines in Nick Schmaltz’s absence. They’re doing the eight-defensemen juggling act and trying to work everyone into the lineup. They’re once again struggling on the power play. When other parts of your game are a work in progress you need a constant. So far, the Blackhawks’ goaltending has provided that. 

Blackhawks will take OT victory but need sharper starts again

Blackhawks will take OT victory but need sharper starts again

Patrick Sharp’s backhand shot slipped past Pekka Rinne late in regulation. The Blackhawks’ push, which started midway through the third period, finally yielded them something and led to a 2-1 overtime victory.

The Blackhawks will take it, but it was the second consecutive game in which it took them two-plus periods and a deficit to get anything going. When the Blackhawks were scoring plenty in the first few games this season they were playing with energy and tenacity from the start and didn’t let up. As they continue through a tough stretch, they want to get back to that.

“They controlled a lot of the battle areas, came up with more loose pucks, we didn’t pressure it enough,” coach Joel Quenneville said of the first two periods against the Nashville Predators. “All of a sudden we had some zone time [in the third], got some momentum off that, scored the big goal by Sharpy. Certainly the last 15 minutes of the game, including overtime, that’s what we need to play like more often.”

Sure, Nick Schmaltz’s absence hasn’t helped. The Blackhawks have missed him, and they hope he’s back on Wednesday. But Schmaltz or no Schmaltz there’s enough firepower on this team to generate offense. So what gives? On Saturday there may have been early frustration against a Predators team that’s done that to them a few times.

“I think it was just tough sledding out there,” Sharp said. “That was a well-coached team, pretty disciplined through the neutral zone. I don’t think we exited the zone with possession too many times throughout the whole game so we had to grind it out a little bit I thought in the third period Joel mixed the lines up and got a little offensive zone time. Got a couple shots on net and able to sneak one in there. I still think we’re capable of scoring multiple goals a game. We can score a lot. That’s never a problem.”

It’s ultimately about creating opportunities or taking advantage of those given to you. Speaking of the latter the Blackhawks’ power play, or lack thereof, doesn’t help. In their best seasons the Blackhawks didn’t sweat power-play issues much because their 5-on-5 scoring was strong. When that 5-on-5 production dries up, however, the power play’s issues are magnified. They came up empty in six more power-play opportunities on Saturday night and are now 4 for 27 on the season.

In the Blackhawks’ last two home games they haven’t been offensively sharp out of the gate. It’s taken them quite a while to get going. On Saturday it worked out well but it’s not a habit they want to repeat often.

“We can’t be overly excited with this short little two-gamer at home,” Quenneville said. “I think that you get Schmaltzy back and you get some consistent lines and more predictable line mates. Maybe if we get that it’ll help push one another in the right way and get more consistency and speed in our game.”