Richard Panik keeps it simple in Blackhawks debut


Richard Panik keeps it simple in Blackhawks debut

Richard Panik laced up the skates and put on a Blackhawks sweater for the first time earlier than expected.

Well, at least in a game.
The 24-year-old winger was acquired on Jan. 3 from Toronto in exchange for forward Jeremy Morin, but Panik's arrival was delayed more than a week due to visa issues.
Despite joining the team on Monday, head coach Joel Quenneville planned to insert Panik into the lineup against either Montreal or Panik's former team Toronto (or perhaps both), but had to make a quick change after Artem Anisimov, who participated in morning skate Tuesday, was listed as an unexpected scratch due to an illness he suffered an hour and a half before the game.
That opened the door for the Panik, who didn't know he'd be playing Tuesday night until shortly before puck drop.
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"I got a call at 6:15 to see if I can make it and I said I will try," Panik said following a 3-2 win over the Nashville Predators which gave the Blackhawks their eighth straight win. "The traffic downtown was terrible. It took me like an hour to get here."
Welcome to Chicago.

In his debut, Panik skated at left wing on the third line with Phillip Danault and Andrew Desjardins, but didn't get much action.
He logged just 6:56 of ice time, partly due to 12 combined penalties committed by both teams. It seemed like every other shift the Blackhawks were either on the power play, where they went 0-for-4, or the penalty kill, where they went 7-for-8, and Panik admitted it was tough to find a rhythm because of it.
But he wouldn't use it as an excuse.
[MORE: Twice is nice: Andrew Shaw scores two as Blackhawks win eighth straight]
"Yeah it was hard, but you have to stay focused and when it's your turn, you have to be ready," he said.
Panik already has an early fan in Quenneville, who opted to go with the newly-acquired forward over Bryan Bickell, who was a healthy scratch for the second straight game.
"I didn't mind him. I thought he got better," Quenneville, who tied Al Arbour for second-most wins in NHL history with 782 following Tuesday's win, said of Panik. "I thought he made some really good plays, good hits, he's got some speed to his game. I liked a lot of things he did, so that was encouraging."
Panik appeared in 76 regular-season games with the Maple Leafs last season, where he scored 11 goals and six assists. He spent his first two seasons with the Tampa Bay Lightning, who drafted him in the second round (52nd overall) of the 2009 NHL Draft. But he found himself on the outside looking in when rosters were finalized at the beginning of the year, and he was disappointed he didn't make the cut.
Now in Chicago, the Slovakian will have a legitimate shot to remain on the NHL roster and is "excited" about the opportunity of joining a Stanley Cup contender. 
[RELATED: Wayne Gretzky comments on Blackhawks' success in 'difficult' era]
Panik's journey started Tuesday by not doing too much.
He drew a penalty in the third period. He made a nice defensive play to prevent an odd man rush one shift later. He registered a team-high four hits. Those are things that don't stick out on the stat sheet, but sometimes it's a good thing when you go unnoticed. That means you're simply doing your job.
Overall, it wasn't a bad debut for a guy who was expecting to watch the game from his hotel room.
"I wasn't ready for it," Panik said. "But as soon as I got here, I tried to warm up a little bit, hit the ice and tried to play simple."

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks hit road to face Blue Jackets

NBC Sports Chicago

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks hit road to face Blue Jackets

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Columbus Blue Jackets tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. One big reunion.

The Blackhawks will square off with the Blue Jackets for the first time since Oct. 7, which was the second game of the season. In that game, they won 5-1 led by Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Brandon Saad, each of whom scored a goal and added an assist.

Of course, that was the first game since the offseason trade that sent Artemi Panarin to Columbus and Saad back to Chicago, along with Anton Forsberg. Artem Anisimov, of course, was part of the original deal that sent Saad to Columbus in 2015, so there are a lot of emotional ties between the two teams.

Forsberg didn't get a chance to face the Blue Jackets in the first meeting, but there's a chance he will this time with it being the second of a back-to-back and Jean-Francois Berube getting the start in Friday's 3-1 win over San Jose.

2. Panarin and Kane bromance.

The emotions of a difficult break-up have probably died down by now, but Panarin and Kane gave us this moment at center ice during pregame warmups in their first game against each other and it hit Chicago right in the feels:

Panarin has spent enough time apart from Kane for people to realize how big of a star he is in his own right, leading the Blue Jackets in all three scoring categories: goals (17), assists (32) and points (49).

He hasn't gone more than three games this season without recording a point, and is looking to extend his point streak to four games, which would tie a season high.

3. Struggling Blue Jackets special teams.

The Blue Jackets got off to a great start but are barely clinging onto a wild card spot going into Saturday's game, and a big reason for that slide is their lack of success on special teams. Usually one can pick up the slack for the other, but they've been brutal in both departments.

The Blue Jackets are 0-for-9 on the power play in their past five games and are ranked 31st overall, converting on only 14.1 percent of their opportunities. They also have own the 27th-ranked penalty kill with a 76.3 percent success rate.

So if there's an area the Blackhawks can exploit, it's that. But, you know, still be mindful of that Russian winger's one-timer from the faceoff circle.

Jean-Francois Berube impressed in his first Blackhawks start


Jean-Francois Berube impressed in his first Blackhawks start

Jean-Francois Berube got his first start of the season on Friday night, and it couldn't have gone any better.

The 26-year-old goaltender stopped 42 of 43 shots, a career-high for him in saves, in the Blackhawks' 3-1 win over the San Jose Sharks at the United Center.

Since Corey Crawford went down with a head injury last December, the Blackhawks have been searching for consistency in the crease. 

The pair of Anton Forsberg and Jeff Glass — who was assigned to Rockford on Feb. 15 and replaced with Berube — have had their ups and downs since then. With the Blackhawks out of the playoff picture, Berube had an opportunity showcase his skills, and he didn't disappoint.

"We were very happy with him," said coach Joel Quenneville. "I thought he did a great job. He was comfortable. I thought he was very patient in his net. Absorbing a lot of pucks with people in front of him was good. Closed some gaps and got … of the top of the paint. Rebound control was effective. Nice response from a long absence."

Berube's last — and only — appearance with the Blackhawks prior to Friday's game came on Dec. 6, relieving Forsberg in a game against the Washington Capitals. He recorded 12 saves of 14 shots. 

When Crawford got injured, Berube was the primary candidate to become the team's backup goaltender. The only problem? He was injured too, so the Blackhawks promoted Glass.

"I didn't want to sit and think about it," Berube said of his injury. "At the same time, it was great for Glasser. He was one of those guys that probably deserved it earlier in his career and he finally got his chance. Sometimes you need a guy to go down to have your chance. So I was mostly happy for him.

On Friday night, he got his chance.

"You always want to have a good impression for your first game," Berube said. "I know what I can do at this level, so it was just a matter of getting the opportunity to play and showing people what I can do."

Celebrating his 22nd birthday, Nick Schmaltz also had a goal and an assist. Artem Anisimov scored an empty-netter.

"It's a lot more fun coming to the rink when you're winning, enjoying each other, playing well as a team," Schmaltz said of the Blackhawks' win, which have now won three of their last four games. "Hopefully we can keep that good energy and bring it to the rink every day, and build off of that.

"You never know where this team can go, a lot of great players, lots of guys that have had a lot of success. Hopefully we can continue to put together solid efforts."