Blackhawks: Artemi Panarin not worried about lengthy NHL season


Blackhawks: Artemi Panarin not worried about lengthy NHL season

DALLAS – Artemi Panarin took Patrick Kane’s pass and quickly got to the slot, where he slipped a backhand shot past Calvin Pickard for his 18th goal of the season.

It’s been a bountiful season for the 24-year-old Russian, who gives an impish grin when he’s reminded that, despite his age and pro career back home, in the NHL he’s nevertheless a rookie. But there is plenty that’s new for Panarin this season: a new country, a new hockey league and a new version of a regular season, one much longer than the ones he’s used to from the Kontinental Hockey League.

On Tuesday night Panarin played in his 54th NHL game, equaling the longest full regular season he’s played in his career (with SKA St. Petersburg last season). The Blackhawks have 28 games remaining in the regular season; factor that in with what the Blackhawks do in the playoffs – which have been lengthy lately – and Panarin will be playing the most hockey of his career this season.

But Panarin isn’t worried about the grind.

“I’m in good shape and [have had] many breaks,” Panarin said through Stan Stiopkin. “I’ve had time to rest. I’ve had time to relax and to get in shape.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

Panarin’s play has been rather consistent throughout this season. Maybe he’s had a goal slump or two here and there but the work he’s done with Kane and Artem Anisimov, even if it’s assists or just the threat of scoring, has been great. Anisimov said earlier this season that Panarin hadn’t reached his highest level of play yet. Asked that same question again on Thursday, Anisimov said Panarin is getting there – sort of.

“He started showing but not so much. He’s very good with the puck and he can do circles and dangle, but he’s not doing that much here,” Anisimov said with a smile. “I don’t know why.”

As for maintaining the high level and not wearing out, Panarin should be fine. With the Blackhawks, considering their schedule and level of success, they don’t practice as much as other teams. Coach Joel Quenneville makes sure players get plenty of rest.

“I know he’s been pretty good so far, and very consistent,” Quenneville said. “As a team, we’re pretty conscientious of rest and implementing it at the needed time for certain guys, as well. Whether it’s days off or ice time, his play will dictate that area.”

Anisimov went through the Russia-to-U.S.-hockey transition a few years ago – he played two seasons of 74 and 80 games, respectively, in the minors before joining the New York Rangers in the 2009-10 season. While the regular-schedule is longer here, Anisimov said it’s less taxing.

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“In Russia we have breaks for the international tournaments. Here, with the pace of things, you just play games,” he said. “It makes things easier.”

Travel over here is much easier, too. The Blackhawks’ longest trip may be about four hours or so (Vancouver and California). Traveling across Russia? Well, that takes a little more time. St. Petersburg to Khabarovsk, for example, is nearly 10 hours.

There’s also another factor. Everything here, on and off the ice, is new and exciting for Panarin. And he’s enjoying every minute of it.

“I was more tired in the KHL because I think, maybe, this is my first season and there are a lot of emotions,” Panarin said. “I feel better here.”

Even if Panarin doesn’t really feel like a rookie, he is one on this side of the pond. And entering Friday night’s games Panarin is leading all rookies in goals (18), assists (32) and points (50). Will Panarin win the Calder Trophy this season? As he said through Stiopkin, “whatever happens happens.” Regardless, Panarin is having a tremendous season as part of a stellar second line.

And nobody sees him losing steam anytime soon.

“I think he’ll be fine,” Kane said. “He’s pretty focused on keeping his body feeling good and staying in shape for when these games do come along. I think he’ll be OK. He’s still a young kid, even last year, after his season, you saw him in the world championships there, he was pretty dynamic there, too. So I think he’ll be fine going into the latter half of the season.”

Evaluating Blackhawks options after Anton Forsberg is placed on waivers


Evaluating Blackhawks options after Anton Forsberg is placed on waivers

The Blackhawks have said all along that they don't plan on carrying three goaltenders, but wanted to do so during the three games in four days stretch just in case, with Corey Crawford coming back from a 10-month layoff because of a concussion.

After being encouraged by how Crawford has responded to his return, the Blackhawks placed goaltender Anton Forsberg on waivers Monday morning. Teams have 24 hours to put in a claim for the 25-year-old goaltender and would have to keep him on their NHL roster for 10 games and/or 30 days before he's eligible to go through the waiver process again.

His chances of getting claimed by any of the other 30 teams essentially depends on which teams believe Forsberg would be an immediate upgrade over their current backup — or starter, for that matter — or whether there's an injury to one of the team's two goaltenders that requires a placeholder, like we saw the Carolina Hurricanes do by claiming Curtis McElhinney from the Toronto Maple Leafs after Scott Darling's injury in the preseason.

If Forsberg goes unclaimed, the Blackhawks can assign him to the American Hockey League with the Rockford IceHogs. With Collin Delia and Kevin Lankinen sharing the goaltending duties in Rockford, it's possible Lankinen gets sent to the Indy Fuel in the East Coast Hockey League to get consistent starts under his belt.

A third option, one that isn't very common but we've seen in the past as recently as last October with Maple Leafs goaltender Kasimir Kaskisuo, is that Forsberg can be loaned to any AHL team while still being a part of the Blackhawks organization. This would allow the Blackhawks to keep Delia and Lankinen in Rockford while Forsberg gets his starts in the AHL, too.

Or, the Blackhawks could simply trade Forsberg to another NHL team that could stash him in the AHL, as long as he clears waivers. They did it last season with Chris DiDomenico, who cleared waivers as a member of the Ottawa Senators but was then traded to Chicago for Ville Pokka days later. Had DiDomenico been claimed by the Blackhawks, he would have had to stay on the NHL roster as noted above.

Forsberg was 10-16-4 with a 2.97 goals against average and .908 save percentage in 35 appearances last season but has not appeared in a game yet this year. He was acquired as part of the Brandon Saad package for Artemi Panarin in June 2017.

Blackhawks looking for defensive improvement from everyone, not just defensemen


Blackhawks looking for defensive improvement from everyone, not just defensemen

The Blackhawks were able to get away with their defensive lapses in the past solely because of Corey Crawford. When he went down with a concussion last December, those issues were magnified because he wasn't there to mask the flaws.

But it's reached the point where they can't rely on their goaltender to bail them out on a nightly basis, which is becoming another trend. Cam Ward allowed six goals to Tampa Bay on Sunday night, but made 49 saves — including 30 in the second period alone. He did everything he could to keep his team withing some sort of reaching distance and without his timely stops, the scoreboard could've looked much worse for the Blackhawks.

Something's got to change. 

When the Blackhawks talk about tightening things up defensively, they're not just putting it all on the defensemen. All five guys on the ice need to do their part and they're not doing it right now.

"I think we're trying to do too much and running around trying to do each other's job," Jonathan Toews said. "Sometimes we just need to simply and finish our checks and support each other."

No team has given up more even-strength high-danger chances through eight games than the Blackhawks at 110. That's 15.77 per 60 minutes. For reference, the New York Islanders finished worst in the league in that category last season and their number was at 12.96.

It didn't help that the Blackhawks spent nearly the entire second period in their own end on Sunday.

"We just couldn’t get it out of our zone, couldn’t get our stick on it, didn’t see pressure, didn’t feel pressure when we had it, were stripped," coach Joel Quenneville said. "Hence, we didn’t advance it. Kept looking like we were going up the ice and there were going to be some odd-man situations and then we’re the ones who were facing it."

That's one way to eliminate those high quality scoring chances, is getting the puck out of their own zone effectively or else it opens the door for Grade-A opportunities because of self-inflicted wounds. And it usually happens at the end of shifts when guys are tired, which often leads to goals.

"We have to learn how to play without the puck better and learn how to keep it," Quenneville said. "Whether it was our execution going up the ice, first pass poor and then we couldn’t change. A lot of things that happened yesterday were there tonight."

The Blackhawks weren't using three games in four nights as an excuse because Tampa Bay was in the same situation. It was an even playing field in that respect.

It's all about execution from everyone involved, forwards and defensemen. And the Blackhawks feel they're correctable issues.

"Of course," Toews said. "We've had some good periods this season so far. The first three, four, five games, everyone was excited and you guys are all talking to us much differently than you are right now. It's just getting back to playing that smart defensive game and playing with effort and letting our offense do the work. We know what's got to improve. It's right there in front of us."