Suddenly a part of Blackhawks' lineup blender, Artem Anisimov rolling with the changes


Suddenly a part of Blackhawks' lineup blender, Artem Anisimov rolling with the changes

For a while, Artem Anisimov didn’t have to deal with much change. He, Patrick Kane and fellow countryman Artemi Panarin clicked immediately after Anisimov was traded to the Blackhawks from Columbus, and with rare exception the three were together for the last two seasons.

Even with Panarin’s trade to the Blue Jackets, Anisimov was expected to remain as the team's second-line center with Kane. But a funny thing happened on the way to filling out the regular-season roster. Coach Joel Quenneville was impressed by Nick Schmaltz’s offseason improvement and training camp, so Schmaltz, who spent part of the summer skating with Kane, took Anisimov’s spot. At least for now.

For those who have been with the Blackhawks several years, being part of the lineup blender is nothing new. For Anisimov, it is new. Still, after working with several potential new line mates, including Alex DeBrincat in the Blackhawks’ 1-0 victory over Boston on Saturday, Anisimov likes the possibilities on the third line.

Since camp began, Anisimov has centered Ryan Hartman on his right — John Hayden took that spot in the third period of Saturday’s preseason finale — and Patrick Sharp or DeBrincat on his left. What the combination ends up being when the Blackhawks open the regular season on Thursday remains to be seen, but regardless of his line mates, Anisimov hasn’t minded the changes.

“It’s been good, actually,” Anisimov said. “Every time it’s a challenge, you know? It’s hard to play without those two guys, but you have to adapt to situations and I can play with every player. I’ll try to do my best with any player on the team.”

While Anisimov’s line mates might be changing, his overall game shouldn’t.

“I’m sure he’ll get exposure to a lot of different guys over the course of the year, but he’s very adaptable to his line mates,” Quenneville said. “He does things that give him the best chance for success. He gets to the front of the net in the offensive zone, we like him down low in our end, he kills penalties, plays on the power play. His role won’t change. Expectations of being productive like he was, those will be tempered a little bit, but we still want him to keep playing the same way.”

Sharp started as Anisimov’s left wing before DeBrincat was moved there for Saturday’s preseason finale. Sharp said recently that Anisimov was a complete player, they read each other’s tendencies immediately and, “a guy like that, anybody can play with him.” Anisimov agreed he and Sharp clicked quickly.

“It was easy to play with him, and I know what he’s going to do,” he said. “That communication; you just see the guy and know what he’s going to do and you’re not hesitating to do something.”

Anisimov had two years of line stability. As Quenneville said, it was a “great way to start your career here.” But it’s not a Blackhawks team without a good amount of line juggling, and Anisimov will roll with the changes.

“Like some players, they take a little bit longer to adapt. But we’re all professionals and we just need to find the best side of the player and use his best side,” Anisimov said. “Just go out there and have fun.”

Alex DeBrincat records third career hat trick, but Blackhawks lose to Blues in overtime

Alex DeBrincat records third career hat trick, but Blackhawks lose to Blues in overtime

For Alex DeBrincat, it was probably nice to hear Chelsea Dagger again.

But how about three times?

The 20-year-old rookie snapped out of a 13-game scoring drought in a big way on Sunday night, recording his third hat trick of the season. DeBrincat did all he could to help give the Blackhawks two points, but they only came away with one in a 5-4 overtime loss to the St. Louis Blues.

DeBrincat is now the first rookie in franchise history with three hat tricks in the same season, passing Steve Larmer. His last two hat tricks came against the Anaheim Ducks on Nov. 27, 2017 and Detroit Red Wings on Jan. 25.

"It's pretty cool," DeBrincat said of his third hat trick, "but I wouldn't be able to do that without the guys we have in this locker room and the linemates I've had. Most credit to them."

Entering Sunday, his last goal was on Feb. 17 against the Washington Capitals.

"Obviously it's frustrating when you go through a slump that like that but what I've learned is to stay positive and there's other things you can help your team win with," DeBrincat said. "Just kind of focus on those things."

He netted goals No. 23, 24 and 25 on the season, tying Patrick Kane for the team lead. He is also tied for second among goals scored by a rookie this season.

DeBrincat opened the scoring with nice wrist shot on the power play to give the Blackhawks a 1-0 lead midway through the first. With less than a minute to go in the period, he tapped one home in front of the net to make it 2-0.

In the third period with the game tied at 3-3, DeBrincat put his team in front 4-3 with 3:13 left in regulation. 

“We were talking about [DeBrincat] today, it had been a while since he had scored," coach Joel Quenneville said. "But whether he scores or not, he does a lot of good things in the game, and he’s very aware of his positioning, and doing the right things, finding pucks, getting in shooting lanes, or denying passing lanes. So he’s effective in a lot of ways, but nice to see him score a nice power-play goal today.”

But Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo even things up again after a shot from the point found its way past J-F Berube with 1:22 left. Patrik Berglund would net the game-winner in overtime to hand the Blackhawks a loss.

"I feel like we’ve played well and we just came up a little bit short," DeBrincat said. "I feel like that’s been the theme of this whole season.”

The pros and cons of reuniting Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews on Blackhawks top line


The pros and cons of reuniting Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews on Blackhawks top line

Jonathan Toews' offense usually comes in spurts. We're seeing it again right now.

But it's no coincidence his numbers have spiked since Patrick Kane joined him on the top line.

After recording another two points in Saturday's 5-3 loss to the Buffalo Sabres, the Blackhawks captain has 11 points (four goals, seven assists) in his past eight games; he had 11 points in his previous 23 games total.

Toews also reached the 20-goal mark for the 11th straight season, joining Kane and Alex Ovechkin as the only three active players to accomplish that feat to open their NHL careers.

Kane has seen his offensive production pick up, too. He has 16 points (four goals, 12 assists) in his past 13 games after going five straight without one, which was his longest point drought of the season.

When the two of them are on the ice together at even strength, they control 57.9 percent of the shot attempts. It hasn't quite translated on the scoresheet (14 goals for and 17 goals against) maybe the way it should, but they are certainly spending far more time in the offensive zone than the defensive end and are generating a high volume of shots.

So yes, reuniting the dynamic duo has worked stats-wise.

But it comes at a cost:

— Vinnie Hinostroza and Nick Schmaltz haven't scored in six straight contests.

— Alex DeBrincat's season-long goal drought is up to 13 games.

— Artem Anisimov's last even-strength goal came nine games ago.

When you put Kane and Toews together, you risk losing some balance across the lineup and that's why Joel Quenneville has always been reluctant to go to that nuclear option. He prefers when opposing teams are forced to play 'Pick Your Poison.'

Ideally, you'd like to spread out the scoring, but one thing is for certain: The Blackhawks are better when Kane and Toews are each producing offensively, whether they're apart or together. 

When the wins start to dry up though — and they have — that's normally when it's time to try something different.

Perhaps more importantly, the last thing you want are those scoring droughts mentioned above to stretch even further and get inside the younger skaters' heads, then carrying it with them into the offseason.