More consistent Richard Panik producing for Blackhawks

More consistent Richard Panik producing for Blackhawks

Tampa Bay Lightning head coach Jon Cooper was dining with his wife in Chicago on Monday night when unexpected drinks arrived at his table, compliments of his former forward, Richard Panik.

"I thought, 'How would he know I was here?' I turned around he was sitting two tables behind me with his wife," Cooper recalled Tuesday morning. "So I thought that was pretty funny."

In the days Panik played for Cooper, first with the Norfolk Admirals and then the Lightning, he struggled with inconsistency. Several years later he's improved in that area, and the Blackhawks are benefiting from it.

In 50 games this season Panik has 11 goals (tied for career best set in 2014-15) and a career-high 21 points. The points are nice, and they're part of what got Panik another shot on the top line with Jonathan Toews this season. But Panik said his all-around game is improving, and coach Joel Quenneville agrees.

"I think he's gotten better. I think he's adding some physicality to our team in his own game," Quenneville said. "Defensively, he's a work in progress but I still think he has the puck a lot more. He comes up with loose pucks with some separation going into the tight areas, and he's around the net. He's hard to play against and I think that adds to his scoring as well. But he's got a tremendous shot and just getting that shot away, he's dangerous."

Panik was one of several players who transitioned from the 2011-12 Calder Trophy-winning Admirals to the Lightning. Tyler Johnson was Panik's line mate in Norfolk and Tampa in the early going.

"It's awesome to see him doing well," Johnson said Tuesday morning. "It's tough seeing an ex-teammate, especially a guy so close, being on a different team, but you always root for him — anytime he doesn't play against us, anyways. But he's a great guy, deserves everything he's getting here. his skill and talent level, you always knew he was capable of big things and he's doing that right now."

Cooper said Panik always had all the tools to become a strong NHL player. He just had to put it all together.

"He just had to learn how to be a pro and he'd been in the process of that. It just took him a little longer than some other guys," Cooper said. "He's an electrifying player and he can do some things with the puck that I haven't seen other guys be able to do. I saw him this summer, his whole approach to the game now is pro. He probably learned a lot of that from playing here in Chicago. I'm happy for him because he deserves this."

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Panik admits those early years could be difficult. He said he was a healthy scratch early, and even after that consistency continued to be an issue. Cooper kept reminding Panik what he could do.

"I was having a major issue back then with the consistency and he was trying to make me better," Panik said. "He taught me everything, all over the game."

When the Blackhawks traded for Panik just over a year ago, it was an opportunity for the forward to get a fresh start. It took him some time to get comfortable off the ice as well as on but he's getting there. Tampa was where Panik got some great lessons on how to become a good NHL pro. Chicago is where he's applying them.

"I think I felt good in Tampa, too, because so many of us played together in the AHL and they brought us together to the big team. But this one is probably up there, you know?" Panik said. "Last year was tough because I got traded in January and it's hard to get on a team that's already going. It was hard but I battled through it. This year I felt pretty good because I was here from the beginning, since training camp. Everything feels more comfortable."

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: After 20 games, do we know the identity of this Blackhawks team?


Blackhawks Talk Podcast: After 20 games, do we know the identity of this Blackhawks team?

On the latest Hawks Talk Podcast Tracey Myers and Jamal Mayers join Pat Boyle to discuss the teams wins over the Rangers and Penguins.  Have they figured some things out and what is the identity of this team after 20 games?

Jammer weighs in on Artem Anisimov’s big week and are there enough Hawks committed to net front presence?  They also discuss the surging play of the blue liners and did the Hawks fail to send a message to Evgeni Malkin, after he kneed Corey Crawford in the head?

Blackhawks’ much-maligned power play is now clicking


Blackhawks’ much-maligned power play is now clicking

It’s an annual rite of passage if you cover or are a fan of the Blackhawks: you question the power play, because there always seems to be an issue with the power play. You wonder why every season, given the talent on this team. And again this fall the power play has sputtered.

But a funny thing happened at the end of the weekend. The Blackhawks’ power play started to look good, started to generate chances and started to score. In 10 games prior to the Blackhawks’ Nov. 12 game against New Jersey they had just three power-play goals in 40 opportunities. In their last three games (vs. the Devils, New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins), they’ve tallied five goals on 13 opportunities.

So what’s been working?

“I’ll probably give you the same answer as when it wasn’t working: pucks to the net, guys in front,” Patrick Sharp said. “We have the shot mentality more so than just moving it around and getting it set up. You look at the goals we’ve scored, it’s nothing overly complicated. It’s just getting the puck to the net. Just stay with it.”

Sounds simple enough, but the stay-with-it part has probably been the toughest segment of the equation. When the Blackhawks slumped they really slumped, and their lack of confidence on the power play was as evident as their lack of scoring on it. Yes, stressing over it can have its affect; and when the Blackhawks got those two power-play goals against the Devils it seemed to be a release.

“You get one, that weight gets lifted off your chest a little bit, you can play a little loser and maybe not grip your stick as tight as when things weren’t going well,” Cody Franson said. “When you’re confident out there you’re moving the puck cleanly, things happen a little quicker for you and give you those better looks at good chances. When you’re not that confident sometimes you’re not executing as well and things were moving slower and you’re not generating too much. Confidence definitely plays a big part in it.”

So back to what’s working. The Blackhawks started becoming more active on the power play, cutting down on the passes and increasing the shots. They’ve been there for rebounds. They started feeding off the success, be it with the power play as a unit or with individual performances. Artem Anisimov has returned to being a force at the net again; of his five goals in his last three games, two are power-play goals.

“A couple of broken plays and sometimes you get some breaks. You win a faceoff and make a quick little play after a couple of great opportunities on the prior whistle there that didn’t go in. I just think shots at the net and traffic and off that, sometimes they go in,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “Our entries have always been alright this year, so we’re getting zone time and let’s get some simpler looks and sometimes they go in. I think gaining confidence there, it seems like we’re having the puck more and longer and sustaining some offense off it.”

The Blackhawks have struggled more than they’ve succeeded on the power play the last few seasons. But as their overall scoring has increased again, so has their power-play production. Good timing.

“People tend to say the power play can keep you in games and the penalty kill can win you games. Our penalty kill’s been great and has given us chances in a lot of games. [Corey Crawford’s] been playing pretty well,” Franson said. “And when our power play can give us success we find ourselves in better situations to try and win games.”