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.”

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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.”

Andrew Shaw trying to find balance between toeing the line and not crossing it for Blackhawks

Andrew Shaw trying to find balance between toeing the line and not crossing it for Blackhawks

The Blackhawks brought Andrew Shaw back to Chicago because they lacked some bite to their game. He's already meeting expectations in the physicality department, leading the team with 23 hits.

But the other part of his game the Blackhawks have to live with is the amount of penalties he takes. Through six games this season, Shaw has taken at least one penalty in five of them and is tied for third among all NHL skaters with six minors. The only two skaters above him are guys who have played in two and four more games, respectively.

Because he plays on the edge, Shaw will occasionally cross it and he's trying to find that balance between toeing the line and not stepping over it.

"I find if I'm not playing on the edge, I'm not playing great," Shaw said. "I need to play physical. Even in preseason, I was just finishing checks — clean, shoulder-to-shoulder — and was getting penalty after penalty. Hockey still is a physical game. There's still hitting; it's still legal. So I'm going to go out there and play hard, make it hard on my opponents, make it hard on them physically, do what I do. Not going to change who I am now. I'm an old dog."

Shaw's reputation may also contribute to the matter. He's racked up more than 600 penalty minutes in his NHL career, including postseason, and the officials might be keeping a closer eye on him when he's on the ice.

"It's something he's got to be aware of, but I also think he's got a bullseye on him," coach Jeremy Colliton said. "If I go back through all the penalties he's taken, he probably earned a couple and he probably earned them five years ago. That's something he's got to deal with. We want him to play hard. I think we can handle the ones where he's running people over. We'll kill those off. Obviously the stick penalties and stuff we don't want. But he's playing hard for the team. That's a good thing."

Said Shaw: "The referees, no matter the history of the player, should call the game as it is. If there's a penalty, call a penalty. If there's not a penalty, you let it go. I mean, yeah, I might have been too vocal in my younger days. But the past three years I've been trying to clean it up a little bit. I just take my penalties when I get 'em. But I must have dug myself a really deep hole. Just trying to climb out of it since."

Still, Shaw knows he has to be smarter about the timing of his penalties and where they're happening. The ones that occur in the offensive zone are the penalties that must be eradicated from his game. The ones he earns from battling between the whistles and sticking up for his teammates, the Blackhawks can live with those.

"Obviously I don't want to take penalties, I don't want to put my team down," Shaw said. "I also don't agree with all of the ones I got. I think I got the short end of the stick on a lot of them. Bite my tongue, go to the box. Our PK's been working hard and competing and killing some penalties. Hopefully they start going my way, I guess."

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Robin Lehner to start in goal for Blackhawks vs. Golden Knights

USA Today

Robin Lehner to start in goal for Blackhawks vs. Golden Knights

Robin Lehner will start in goal for the Blackhawks when they host the Vegas Golden Knights at the United Center on Tuesday, coach Jeremy Colliton confirmed after morning skate. It will be his third start of the season.

Lehner is coming off a game in which he stopped 37 of 39 shots for a save percentage of .949, which earned him the No. 3 star of the game in a 3-2 overtime win over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday. He was fantastic. 

Lehner is 1-0-1 with a 2.47 goals-against average and .931 save percentage in two starts this season.

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