Blackhawks

Pack your bags, Hawks hitting the road

958565.png

Pack your bags, Hawks hitting the road

The Chicago Blackhawks figured theyd spend some time on the road early in this abbreviated season. That circus trip bit the dust with the lockout, but that lengthy road trip while the Disney ice show is in town remained.

So not only do the Blackhawks face a frenzied game schedule, theyll be on the road for a good chunk of it right out of the gate.

The Blackhawks will play 10 of their first 12 games on the road, including six on that ice show trip, part of the teams regular-season schedule that was released on Saturday night.

RELATED: Check out the 2013 Blackhawks schedule

The NHLPA ratified the new collective bargaining agreement on Saturday but schedules couldnt be officially released until both the PA and NHL agreed to and signed a Memorandum of Understanding. The two sides spent most of Saturday working on that.

For the Blackhawks, the road test starts immediately: at noon on Jan. 19 they play the defending champion Los Angeles Kings, who plan to raise their Stanley Cup banner that day.

The next night theyre in Phoenix, facing a Coyotes team that booted them from the 2011-12 postseason. Phoenix forward Raffi Torres will still be serving his suspension for elbowing Blackhawks forward Marian Hossa in the head in Game 3 last April. The six-game ice show trip features treks to Minnesota, Vancouver, Calgary, San Jose, Phoenix and Nashville.

PHOTOS:A look inside the Hawks first 10 games

Not that the home schedule will be any easier. The Blackhawks will host the St. Louis Blues in its season opener on Jan. 22, then the Detroit Red Wings on Jan. 27.

The schedule was already going to be hectic, given the leagues desire to get a 48-game season starting by Jan. 19. For the Blackhawks, however, the road presents another tough task to a team hoping to get off to a strong start.

But Bryan Bickell, when asked about the potential early road onslaught on Friday, didnt see it as a liability.

Well do some team bonding on the road; just to get some chemistry and get to know everybody. I know I havent seen most of these guys for four months, Bickell said. Every games important, whether we start at home or the road. And its going to be good to have the home games late because it may come down to that.

True, but if it comes down to that at the end its because the Blackhawks bobbed and wove their way through a brutal early road schedule oh, and their two home games in between all that travel are against division rivals St. Louis and Detroit.

The Blackhawks mettle will be tested early. And it will be tested far away from their friendly United Center setting.

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.”