Blackhawks

Boden: Penguins' pain threshold

616810.png

Boden: Penguins' pain threshold

A year ago, the Blackhawks had 144 man games lost to injury. This year, they've had all of 22. Pittsburgh had well over 300 a year ago. They've had more than 160 this year.

Brent Seabrook, who suffered a nasty, illegal hit at the hands of Rene Bourque during Sunday night's game, did travel with the Blackhawks to Pittsburgh but it's unknown if he will play Tuesday. Bourque received a two-game suspension from the NHL on Monday.

Even with this injury, the Blackhawks can count their blessings with how healthy they've been. But they can also look across the ice Tuesday night and see the team that's been best at handling health issues. Sidney Crosby has missed 25 games and still has only faced the Hawks just twice in his career (none in the past five seasons). All-Star defenseman Kris Letang's missed 11 games total, and hasn't played since Thanksgiving weekend. Same goes for fellow blueliner Zbynek Michalek. Evgeni Malkin missed seven games earlier. There are others. Those are just the bigger names. But the Penguins came into Monday tied for the fourth-best point total in the East -- after losing four of their last six. They lost those 300-plus man-games a year ago, and Dan Bylsma amazingly led them to the second-highest point total in the East before exiting in the first round of the playoffs. Think of the Hawks playing without Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane a year ago.

"They've learned how to play without their star players and it shows that they don't give anybody easy games," said Toews. "When it comes to playing Eastern Conference teams we're not used to seeing it comes down to us and our preparation. We've been playing much better, getting the starts we need, we've been (penalty-) killing better and paying better attention to detail. When we do that, our skill takes over."

"They're right at the top of their conference and play well with whoever they have in their lineup," added Duncan Keith. "We know it's gonna be a tough game. It'll be exciting to go into Pittsburgh and play our first game in their new building."

Joel Quenneville, who reached the 600-coaching-win mark Sunday night quicker than anyone in NHL history except for the legendary Scotty Bowman, speaks of highly of what Bylsma's been able to pull off.

"You gotta commend them with how well they play their team game and their commitment for doing the right things all over the ice. They play hard and play a physical brand and don't give you a lot of time or space. Everybody's kind of stepped up to the challenge of missing key guys and finding ways to win. It's not easy to do over long periods of time even though I think initially you might get a little jolt out of it, but you have to commend them over sustaining it over time."

But the Hawks who've been playing for Quenneville almost 3-12 seasons -- particularly two of the guys who have letters on the front of their jerseys -- know what they have in their leader after they helped him reach that milestone Sunday.

"You don't get to that point without knowing a thing or two about hockey," said Toews. "He's done nothing but good things since coming into this locker room. I think for the guys in here, you take satisfaction in getting wins like (Sunday's) for your coach, knowing what he puts into our team every single day."

Said Keith: "He's been huge, coming in here and settling down our team. He really gave us that experience and leadership and capped it off with the Cup. 600 wins is a lot of wins. It's impressive, and I don't think it's a coincidence when you get that many."

If you think about it, Quenneville just turned 53 in September. Would he coach, say, another ten years? While appearing to handle the stress of the job quite well on the exterior, who knows what toll it takes (see last year's missed time that seemed to surprise everyone). But he's been at this awhile. Every coach in every sport has a "shelf life," but with this Blackhawks core in place the next few years, how high can his win total go? The 21 victories this year put him fourth in club history with 159, three behind Rudy Pilous, and 23 behind Bob Pulford, so he very well could become the second-winningest coach in franchise history before the season is out. Billy Reay's 516 victories tops the organization.

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit first-place Lightning

11-22_nhl-matchup_hawks-at-lightning_blank.jpg

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit first-place Lightning

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

1. Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos.

There hasn't been a more dynamic duo in the NHL so far this season than Kucherov and Stamkos, who have combined for 68 points (27 goals, 41 assists) through 20 games, and sit first and second in the scoring race.

They've each recorded a point in every game except three — which coincidentally have been the same games — and they've lost all three of those contests. Kucherov has also scored a goal in 15 of 20 games this season. That's absurd when you consider he's scoring on a consistent basis; it's not like they're coming in spurts.

To put all that into perspective, he reached the 17-goal mark in his 36th game last year and still finished second in the league with 40 goals. He hit the 17-goal mark in 16 fewer games this season. How many can he realistically finish with? 60?

2. Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.

Tampa Bay knows how dangerous Chicago's dynamic duo can be as well, as evidenced in the 2015 Stanley Cup Final. The Blackhawks' superstars know how to get up for a big game.

In 13 career regular-season games against the Lightning, Kane has 18 points (six goals, 12 assists). Toews has 14 points (eight goals, six assists) in 14 games.

They're both producing at or above a point-per-game pace, and they're going to need more of that against this powerhouse Lightning team.

3. Something's gotta give.

Tampa Bay's offensive prowess is off the charts up and down the lineup. It has four lines that can come at you at waves, and a strong, active blue line led by potential Norris Trophy finalist Viktor Hedman and Calder Trophy candidate Mikhail Sergachev.

Although Chicago allows the fourth-most shots per game (34.0), it actually hasn't been bad at preventing goals — a large reason for that is Corey Crawford. 

The Lightning rank first in goals per game (3.95) and first in power play percentage (28.0) while the Blackhawks rank sixth in goals against per game (2.65) and four in penalty kill percentage (84.9).

Who's going to crack first?

Artem Anisimov keeps his vow, dons a mustache and raises his productivity in November

1121_artem_anisimov.jpg
USA TODAY

Artem Anisimov keeps his vow, dons a mustache and raises his productivity in November

Artem Anisimov wasn’t happy with his October.

The Blackhawks center struggled the first month of the season. Maybe it was adjusting to new line mates after being with the same two for two seasons. Maybe it was just a slow start. Maybe it was more than that. Regardless, Anisimov was frustrated. So as October turned to November, Anisimov told Patrick Sharp that he was going to get back on track.

“He’s scoring lots of goals and he said he was going to in the month of November,” Sharp recalled. “So he’s backing it up.”

Anisimov is doing that, recording five goals in his last three games including a hat trick against his former team, the New York Rangers, on Wednesday. Since November’s start, Anisimov has seven goals.

“My start of the season was not great,” Anisimov said. “But I keep working hard and be focused and say, ‘OK, November. I’m going to step up in November and forward.’”

When told of Anisimov’s prediction to Sharp, coach Joel Quenneville said, “well, now he set a precedent. We’ll have to look for it every month now.

“Quite a standard he was looking to achieve and got off to a great start here,” Quenneville said. “When Arty’s at the net he makes good plays, takes it to the net, draws some traffic to him and opens up other lanes behind him. I still think he has a purpose defensively, which he can add to that line.”

Anisimov’s resurgence coincides with the Blackhawks doing the same thing; after an up-and-down start, both are finding their rhythm again. For the Blackhawks it could be finding some line chemistry. For Anisimov it might be the same thing; he and Kane have been back together since Nov. 12, and those two and Nick Schmaltz have combined for a dynamic second line.

Or is it that mustache that Anisimov’s growing for Movember?

“I thought when you were saying what you were saying (about Anisimov’s vow), he made that statement when he got Kaner back on his line. But I think it was right when he shaved his beard into a mustache. That’s when he took off,” Jonathan Toews said with a laugh. “So that’s the biggest correlation right there.”

OK, teaming up with Kane again probably looms larger. The two have had great chemistry dating back to the 2015-16 season, when they first teamed with Artemi Panarin. Kane’s puck possession helps free Anisimov up to do his work at the net, and he’s been capitalizing there.

“He’s had a great month. He’s just one of those guys who gets to the front of the net and finds ways to be productive,” Kane said. “Maybe seven or eight games ago people were talking about how he was struggling and now he’s having a great start to the season. It shows how a few games can change that but he’s been great for us, not only scoring a lot of goals but a lot of big goals to get some wins.”

Still, hockey players are a superstitious lot. Players have ribbed Anisimov about the mustache — “I asked him to serve me a sparkling water on the airplane because he looks like a waiter in France or something,” Sharp said. But considering Anisimov’s mustache and the points sprouted at the same time, they’re now imploring Anisimov to keep it.

“Yep,” Anisimov said with a grin. “That’s true.”