Blackhawks

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

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USA TODAY

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.”

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: Could Blackhawks become sellers at trade deadline?

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USA TODAY

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: Could Blackhawks become sellers at trade deadline?

On the latest Hawks Talk Podcast, Pat Boyle and Steve Konroyd discuss the Blackhawks’ poor effort vs. Detroit, Corey Crawford’s health and what kind of run they will need to go on to make the Staney Cup playoffs.

Konroyd also weighs in on his roster concerns and whether or not the Blackhawks will be buyers or sellers at the Feb. 26 trade deadline.

Joel Quenneville sends message to Blackhawks going into bye week

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AP

Joel Quenneville sends message to Blackhawks going into bye week

The Blackhawks are in a position they've never been in under Joel Quenneville. It's mid-January and they find themselves below the playoff line.

To make things even more difficult, they'll be sitting at home or on vacation for the next five days while they watch other Western Conference teams accumulate points during their league-mandated bye week. That means when they return to action on Saturday they'll have lots of ground to make up and minimal margin for error.

So while the Blackhawks should certainly use their down time to recharge both mentally and physically, Quenneville's message to his team is very clear.

"Mentally, get away," he said following a 4-0 loss to the Detroit Red Wings on Sunday. "Relax, I guess. Have a little fun. But hockey still has to be in the back of your mind. It’s still going to be on when you’re out there. Certainly knowing it’s going to take a lot more than what we showed in the first half of the season. We’re going to need everyone going all out every single night to have a chance."

And it's alarmingly true.

Here's what the wild card picture looks like going into Monday:

While just three points separate the Blackhawks from the Wild, the Blackhawks are in the worst position among the six teams in the picture. The Stars, who are already ahead by a point, have one game in hand on the Blackhawks, the Sharks have four and the streaking Avalanche have three. Heck, even the Ducks have a game in hand, which means an extra win would put them above the Blackhawks.

Every point is critical for the Blackhawks, not only because it obviously keeps them in the hunt, but because on game's they fail to collect points, they're scoreboard watching five other teams hoping they're coming away with nothing as well.

The Blackhawks will come out of the bye week with three straight home games, and if they don't play with their backs against the wall from here on out, their nine-year playoff streak could be in serious jeopardy.