Blackhawks

Pressure on Blackhawks reminiscent of 2012-13 season

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USA TODAY

Pressure on Blackhawks reminiscent of 2012-13 season

On Monday afternoon NHL Network broadcast their review of the Blackhawks’ 2013 Cup run. Once that season did finally begin in January of 2013 you all remember what happened: the insane 21-0-3 start, the consistency throughout that shortened regular season, the scare against the Detroit Red Wings and the eventual Cup.

Considering the end result it’s easy to forget how much uncertainty there was entering that season – past the uncertainty of if there even would be a season. The Blackhawks were coming off two consecutive seasons that ended with first-round losses, their attempts to bolster roster depth had fallen short in both of those seasons and the chances of the core group getting another Cup didn’t look promising.

Sound familiar?

Fast forward to this fall with the Blackhawks facing a lot of uncertainty again. They’ve once again looked to free agency to try and boost their depth. They’ve once again looked to former players (Patrick Sharp and Brandon Saad) to help rekindle what worked so well from 2012-15. And once again, the pressure is on to get back to where they were not so long ago.

But there are a whole lot of differences between then and now. Hindsight confirming now what we weren’t sure of then, that 2012-13 team was pretty deep. Bryan Bickell had a career year. Johnny Oduya, acquired the previous season, bolstered the Blackhawks’ defense. Andrew Shaw came into his own. So did Saad. Michael Frolik and Marcus Kruger became steady and reliable penalty killers. The core players were in the prime of their careers and still had a lot of hockey in front of them.

Can the Blackhawks have a rebound season like 2012-13? Right now, it would be a surprise. Key players have logged a lot of hockey since the 2008-09 season, including two conference finals and three Stanley Cup runs. Marian Hossa is gone. The Blackhawks’ depth past the top two lines is a concern. So is the defensive lineup. While the Blackhawks surged to claim the Central last season, others have increased their chances of taking the top spot. Nashville made its statement last spring, starting with that first round against the Blackhawks. The Dallas Stars enter this fall having addressed their most pressing concern (goaltending).

To say this Blackhawks season is going to be interesting is an understatement. They could live with the seven-game, first-round elimination against St. Louis in 2016 but they couldn’t stomach the first-round sweep to Nashville in April. The pressure the Blackhawks are feeling now is very much like the pressure they felt entering the 2012-13 season. Alleviating it this time around is going to be a lot tougher to do.

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

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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.”

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

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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?