Blackhawks

Artem Anisimov returns vs. Andrew Shaw, Canadiens

Artem Anisimov returns vs. Andrew Shaw, Canadiens

Artem Anisimov is back and Ryan Hartman will start on the top line when the Blackhawks host the Montreal Canadiens tonight at the United Center.

Anisimov missed one game due to the upper-body injury he sustained against St. Louis earlier this week.

The Blackhawks will welcome back former teammates Andrew Shaw and Phillip Danault. Both had good nights in the Canadiens’ victory over the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday night; Shaw had a goal and two assists and Danault had a goal and an assist. The Blackhawks are looking forward to the reunion, especially with Shaw.

“It’ll be fun to see him out there,” Jonathan Toews said. “I’ve said this before, knock on wood, some of the former players that come through here seem to have their way with us. So we’ll try to do our best to keep him off his game tonight.”

Coach Joel Quenneville called Shaw, “a special guy, special player.”

“He brings a lot of intangibles you can appreciate and I’m sure he’s done a nice job over there. You miss a guy like that over the time we had here with him,” he said. “It’ll be fun to get to finally coach against him but you like all the intangibles and how he prepares and how he plays the game because he does so many things that are helpful to your team.”

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Hartman will have the same feeling seeing Danault; the two have been good friends since their days with the Rockford IceHogs.

“We still keep in touch; we talk pretty often. It’s going to be weird playing against him but we were both competitors,” Hartman said. “When the puck drops we’ll be going at it like we’re not friends. After, we’ll talk and it’ll be all good.”

Hartman, who finished Friday’s game playing on the top line with Toews and Patrick Kane, will start there tonight. Toews said Hartman brings plenty of energy.

“He works hard. He’s not afraid to use his body. He has a great shot, too, and we want him to use that and put the puck on net, and try to shoot through traffic,” Toews said of Hartman, who has been good since returning off a few healthy scratches.

“I think it’s hard for guys to go out of the lineup but you love to see that response that they come back into the lineup a little pissed off, [with] a little bit of an edge and they’re ready to contribute any way they can,” Toews continued. “When you do that, you get more opportunity, more ice time.”

Corey Crawford will start for the Blackhawks. Al Montoya is expected to start for the Canadiens.

Montreal Canadiens at Blackhawks

When: 6 p.m.

TV: WGN

Radio: WGN 720 AM

Chicago Blackhawks lines

Forwards

Ryan Hartman-Jonathan Toews-Patrick Kane

Artemi Panarin-Artem Anisimov-Marian Hossa

Vinnie Hinostroza-Dennis Rasmussen-Nick Schmaltz

Andrew Desjardins-Marcus Kruger-Richard Panik

Defensemen

Duncan Keith-Brian Campbell

Michal Kempny-Brent Seabrook

Gustav Forsling-Niklas Hjalmarsson

Goaltender: Corey Crawford

Injuries: Tyler Motte (lower body), Trevor van Riemsdyk (upper body).

Montreal Canadiens (via NHL.com)

Forwards

Paul Byron-Alex Galchenyuk-Alexander Radulov

Sven Andrighetto-Tomas Plekanec-Brendan Gallagher

Max Pacioretty-Phillip Danault-Andrew Shaw

Daniel Carr-Torrey Mitchell-David Desharnais

Defensemen

Alexei Emelin-Shea Weber

Andrei Markov-Jeff Petry

Nathan Beaulieu-Joel Hanley

Goaltender: Al Montoya

Blackhawks 2018-19 season grades: Coaching

Blackhawks 2018-19 season grades: Coaching

Jeremy Colliton had difficult shoes to fill. That's an understatement.

He replaced a three-time Stanley Cup winner and the second-winningest NHL coach of all-time in Joel Quenneville. And Colliton jumped in at the age of 33 just days after he and his wife welcomed their third child.

To make things even more complicated, Colliton took over as Blackhawks head coach just one month into the season and had to implement some new components of his system on the fly. That took a while for the veterans who had been playing one way for the last 10-plus years to adjust.

Colliton's No. 1 priority when he came to Chicago was to help fix a power-play unit that ranked third-worst during the 2017-18 campaign with a 16.0 percent success rate and 26th through the first 15 games of the 2018-19 season with a 14.0 percentage. It wasn't getting any better.

But from the day he got hired and on, the Blackhawks finished with the seventh-best power play (21.8 percent). It dried up down the stretch, but that was after a two-month span where it was converting at nearly a 40 percent clip. It was bound for regression.

The penalty kill, however, is something that stayed in the basement of the NHL all season long. They were 23rd under Quenneville through the first 15 games (76.6 percent) and finished last with a 71.7 percent kill rate under Colliton in the remaining 67 games. You can overcome a struggling power play, but it's almost impossible to overcome a bad penalty kill.

At 5-on-5 play under Quenneville this season, the Blackhawks had an expected goals for percentage of 45.8, a scoring chances for percentage of 49.2 and high-danger chances for percentage of 43.6, according to naturalstattrick.com. Under Colliton, they had an expected GF percentage of 45.8, SCF percentage of 46.9 and HDCF percentage of 42.6.

The sample sizes obviously aren't the same (15 games vs. 67) and, as we mentioned above, it took a couple of months for the Blackhawks to really get comfortable with Colliton's defensive structure. They certainly went through growing pains.

But with the Blackhawks expected to be active this summer in free agency and adding players that fit their new head coach's style, coupled with the fact that Colliton will have a full training camp to iron out the kinks and incorporate even more elements into his system, and the team could hit the ground running for the 2019-20 campaign rather than playing catch-up all season long. 

"I think as you go you get more comfortable, you gain confidence, you go through experiences and deal with situations that come up and they're challenging at times," Colliton said. "You get through it. And then the next time stuff comes up, you feel more confident, you feel better about what you're doing. I had confidence when I came in November that I had a plan and we as a staff could make some progress. It took longer than we all would have liked, but I think I'm a better coach now than when I walked in, and I'm going to use that going forward. 

"There's going to be challenging circumstances next year too where maybe doesn't come easy. But I think all the best coaches get better all the time. Every day they're bringing new ideas and new energy and looking outside for inspiration. That's what I expect to."

Coaching: B-

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What Ian Mitchell returning to college means for Blackhawks

What Ian Mitchell returning to college means for Blackhawks

After falling short of a Frozen Four championship with Denver, the attention in Chicago turned to defenseman prospect Ian Mitchell and whether he'd sign an entry-level deal with the Blackhawks. It felt like it was only a matter of time before he would do so, but as the days passed, there seemed to be growing speculation that that may not be the case.

On Wednesday, Mitchell made it official and announced his decision to return to college for his junior season by releasing this statement on Denver's website:

"In the past few days since our season ended, I have had the chance to reflect on the year and the season our team had. It became clear to me during that time that I did not feel ready mentally or physically to leave Denver. I believe this is the best place for me to become a better hockey player and as a team we have an opportunity to do something very special next year. I would like to thank the Chicago Blackhawks organization for being so supportive and respectful of my decision to remain in school and continue my development. I am looking forward to next season."

So what does this mean for the Blackhawks?

For one, it immediately eliminates Mitchell from the equation of making the 2019-20 Opening Day roster even though he might be the most pro-ready of the three top Blackhawks defensemen prospects that haven't appeared in an NHL game yet (Nicolas Beaudin and Adam Boqvist). It's probably a wise move for his long-term development.

But with Beaudin and Boqvist also in the same boat as far as maybe needing some more time to develop, it's entirely possible all three won't be in the NHL next season. Which is fine. The Blackhawks have always preached patience when it comes to prospects developing at their own pace.

But it puts the Blackhawks in a position the following season where they could be breaking in several young defensemen at once depending on where they're at in their timelines. Maybe that's a good problem to have. It also depends on the number of roster spots available, which is a conversation for a different day.

In going back to college, Mitchell, a second-round pick (No. 57 overall) in 2017, pushes back his eligibility to sign with the Blackhawks to the spring of 2020. And yes, it's too early to start wondering whether the Blackhawks could lose his signing rights if he returns to college for a senior season and elects to go to free agency. 

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