Artem Anisimov has been Blackhawks' much-needed second-line center


Artem Anisimov has been Blackhawks' much-needed second-line center

Artemi Panarin was coming off his great game the other night when he was asked why things are working so well on that second line, especially with he and Patrick Kane.

“Because (Artem) Anisimov’s really good,” Panarin said through Viktor Tikhonov. “The missing piece.”

Panarin and Kane have gotten the lion’s share of the second-line attention this season, and understandably so. They’ve recorded a lot of points. But Anisimov deserves credit of his own for being that second-line center the Blackhawks needed.

And Anisimov’s done pretty well in the points department, too: His six goals are second best on the team (Kane leads with 10), and his nine points are fourth. Anisimov has helped the Blackhawks fill that void on the second line as well as on special teams.

“He’s very useful: faceoffs, size and he anticipates well both sides of the puck,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “That line, we got away from it a couple of games, and just getting them back together, you can see something connecting between both his wingers. He complements them in a good way.”

[MORE BLACKHAWKS: Duncan Keith could return to Blackhawks this weekend]

The Blackhawks signed Anismov to a five-year, $22.75 million deal one day after acquiring him in the deal that sent Brandon Saad to the Columbus Blue Jackets. They look at him as their second-line center for the next few years to come, and his impact has been instantaneous.

“I think you look at the way he plays,” Kane said. “He’s a big strong center man, a left-handed shot, he’s good on face offs and he’s also good on both ends of the ice and in front of the net. When you combine a lot of those skills together, you’re going to have a pretty good hockey player.”

For Anisimov, playing with Panarin and Kane hasn’t required a lot of adjustments.

“I just pass the puck to them and create space and do the hard work,” said Anisimov, who added why the three clicked so quickly. “I think we play the same hockey, all three of us. We just get connected. We have a chemistry and just play hockey.”

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Anisimov’s contributions have also been strong on special teams, where the Blackhawks lost a few key players in offseason moves. Two of Anisimov’s goals are short-handed and he recorded his first power-play goal with the Blackhawks on Sunday night against Edmonton.

“He does a lot of little things well, whether it’s getting in on the fore-check or grinding out pucks along the goal line, below the goal line or along the boards and popping it to those two other guys, Kaner and Panarin. He’s a big body in front of the net, and he’s good at screening the goalie,” Duncan Keith said. “He does a lot of those little smart plays you need, and I think he’s a big reason why that line’s effective.”

Anisimov said earlier this season that he would feel more comfortable with the Blackhawks the more games he played. He’s pretty much looked at home from the start, be it on that line or on special teams. The Blackhawks expected him to make an impact, to be that “missing piece,” that has long been the team’s second-line center spot. He’s done that immediately.

“I don’t know who’s been a bigger surprise between him and Panarin,” Kane said. “They’ve both have been tremendous to start the season and probably better than we all thought both of them were. It’s been fun playing with those guys.”

How Blackhawks plan to handle Corey Crawford's workload

How Blackhawks plan to handle Corey Crawford's workload

Corey Crawford is back and it didn't look like he skipped much of a beat. The Blackhawks were handed their first regulation loss of the season to the Arizona Coyotes on Thursday, but the 33-year-old netminder stopped 27 of 30 shots (.900 save percentage) in his season debut and made several timely saves to keep his team in it.

In the larger picture, it was a win based on how well Crawford looked between the pipes.

"Yeah, I think it is," coach Joel Quenneville said after practice on Friday. "It's one of things we were wondering, how he would handle post-game and how he came in today. Very encouraging signs. He felt good in all aspects of what he went through and dealt with, and practiced well today too, so that was good."

The first one is in the books.

But what's the plan going forward? Will Crawford be on a "pitch count" or will they treat him like they have in past seasons when he was healthy?

In the past, Crawford has generally started somewhere in between 55-58 games per season. Part of that has been because of injuries. Another part is the Blackhawks have had reliable backups, which allowed them to give Crawford an extra night off here and there to keep him fresh.

It's not unreasonable, though, to think Crawford could flirt with 50 starts, considering he missed only five games to start the season. And they can still accomplish that by playing it safe.

The Blackhawks have 13 more back-to-backs this season, which gives them the opportunity to start Cam Ward at some point in each of them. That leaves room for another 15 or so starts to sprinkle in for Ward that could serve as rest days for Crawford and still being on track to start around 50.

Obviously, the Blackhawks want to be careful with how much they ask of Crawford because concussions are tricky to deal with and every player responds differently to it.

His return comes at a time where the Blackhawks are slated to play seven games in 11 days after playing just two in the previous 10. Thursday marked the start of that stretch.

"He’ll tell us how he feels and we’ll go from there and make those decisions," Quenneville said.

The Blackhawks have been on record saying they prefer not to carry three goaltenders. But in this case it makes sense. At least in the short term.

Quenneville said Friday that the Blackhawks will reevaluate the situation at the end of the weekend following the beginning of a busy stretch where they'll play three games in four days.

"Yeah, that’s the mindset," he said. "Let’s see how we handle these three in four and then we’ll address it."

Crawford is expected to start on Saturday in Columbus, making it his second start in three days. That's when they'll get a better sense of how he's handling things.

If it were up to him, Crawford said he feels he's prepared for it.

"Yeah, sure," Crawford said. "Why not? I've been working hard with [strength and conditioning coach Paul Goodman]. He's got me where I need to be, so I'm in shape right now. Why not?"

Hawks Talk Podcast: Thoughts on Corey Crawford's season debut


Hawks Talk Podcast: Thoughts on Corey Crawford's season debut

In the latest Hawks Talk Podcast, Pat Boyle, Jamal Mayers and Charlie Roumeliotis recap Corey Crawford’s season debut after missing nearly 10 months with a concussion.

Mayers talks about the Kitty system that Niklas Hjalmarsson and Vinnie Hinostroza probably dealt with in their returns to Chicago.

The guys also discuss what’s next for Crawford, the upcoming matchup against Artemi Panarin and the Columbus Blue Jackets, and the Blackhawks’ biggest areas for improvement.

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below, and be sure to subscribe, rate us and write a review!