Blackhawks

Hawk Talk: Are these the gifts we've been asking for?

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Hawk Talk: Are these the gifts we've been asking for?

Sunday, Nov. 28, 2010
1:35 PM

By Chris Boden
CSNChicago.com

Since our planet's much-more-brilliant minds are still working on perfecting the Time Machine, there's unfortunately no way we can fast-forward a few months to find out what impact the Circus Trip will have had on the Blackhawks' season. There are definite signs to point to if they maintain a higher level of consistency and take off from here.

It's only two games, and just the second time in six-and-a-half weeks they've put back-to-back wins together. They also beat a couple of slumping teams missing a key player or two. Yet, there was reason to like the fact there was no letdown at the end of a long trip, finishing on consecutive nights. In Anaheim, when they controlled most of the first period, they didn't let a late power play goal throw them off their game. As much as Nick Boynton may have disappointed a couple of nights earlier with turnovers in San Jose, you had to love him once again coming to a teammate's defense. Same goes for Jonathan Toews Saturday night, captain-versus-captain, going after Dustin Brown as the Kings continued targeting linemate Viktor Stalberg all game. Maybe there is something about that road trip bonding.

In the final five minutes of the trip, they were forced to dig real deep, and while they couldn't kill a 5-on-3, they burned off the second penalty in what was an encouraging night for a PK which has still allowed seven goals the last five games and has sunk towards the bottom of the NHL. The power play will also need a little sprucing up after connecting just twice on the entire trip. The last couple of wins overcame those two trends with a willingness to forecheck, crash the net and the defense doing a better job of jumping on rebounds around their house.

In my last entry, I wrote about the best players being the best players. While there are still some individual head-scratchers along the way, those victories over the Ducks and Kings had a scoresheet filled with returning Cup-winners. Patrick Sharp? Yeah, I guess it was good Stan Bowman deemed him an untouchable. I wonder if he comes home still the hotel room wrestling champ, too.

Then there's Corey Crawford. Joel Quenneville leans toward going with a good thing when it's working, so it's easy to imagine him sticking with the Big 5-0, who's gone a big 4-0 in his last four starts. The only three shots that've gotten past him in his last three starts have been on the opponent's power play.

Marty Turco shouldn't be labeled as a scapegoat by any means. He'll still get a ton of time. It just so happens that after opening the trip with his first Hawks shutout, the games in Calgary and San Jose weren't his sharpest nights, compounded by the fact everyone around him played poorly, as well. As we discussed with Ed Olczyk during the second intermission Saturday night, teams go through stretches where they just play better in front of one goalie over another. Niemi over Huet here last year. Niittymaki over Niemi now in San Jose. Earlier in the season, Johnson over Fleury in Pittsburgh. Sure, the goalie has something to do with inspiring that confidence. Some of Turco's first-month efforts saved his new team a handful of points. At this point, Crawford seems to bump up the feel-good factor. Turco's time will come around again. He's a great teammate but he's also more accomplished, experienced and psychologically stronger than Huet a year ago if this turns into a competition.

It would be a great time for this potential springboard to be real. They Hawks are also as healthy as they've been all season. Their place in the standings continues to get a big assist by the games they have in hand. Until the others catch up, the next item to check on the "to-do" list is making their home ice nasty again for visitors. Ten of their next 13 games are back in their barn. Check out the teams they face. All from the Western Conference. All jockeying for what counts come April. It starts Tuesday against a St. Louis team feeling the losses of Oshie, Perron and Polak. Better for the Hawks to keep adding to their point total and deny these other teams when they have the head-to-head opportunity before the schedule evens out and they're potentially passed.

Each season is a process that must unfold at its own pace. Some teams riding high the first month are learning it's a difficult pace to keep up. But still, when's that Time Machine supposed to be ready again?

Chris Boden is the host of Blackhawks Pre and Postgame Live on Comcast SportsNet.

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit first-place Lightning

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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

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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.”