Blackhawks

(No) change is good: Hawks’ second line a model of consistency

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(No) change is good: Hawks’ second line a model of consistency

Patrick Kane isn’t used to this.

The Blackhawks right wing has seen the same two line mates, Artem Anisimov and Artemi Panarin, for all but two or three games this season. For a player who has worked with plenty of different line mates – especially centers – during his time with the Blackhawks, this line stability is nice.

“It’s been pretty different,” Kane said. “The last few years, especially, I got into a rhythm where you’re playing with pretty much every forward throughout the game. To have two line mates you’re playing with consistently is definitely something I haven’t been used to, but it’s been good.”

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There’s been plenty of talk about the Blackhawks’ second line this season, and for good reason: even in the few games it hasn’t produced any points it’s been a threat to do so, so breaking it up has pretty much been out of the question. That’s been good for the line as a group and especially Kane.

The statistics speak for themselves, from the team’s overall record to that line’s numbers to Kane’s individual marks this season. Sure, there are some special-teams points in there but overall, Kane has a career-high 32 goals this season. He’s just 14 shy from tying a career marks in assists (58) and 12 shy of a career high in points (88), both set in 2009-10.

That line’s consistency means coach Joel Quenneville hasn’t had to worry much about that combination.

“They’re the longest tenure of a line being together. I think we’ve had a lot of guys in and out with certain guys, two together have formed a line and one guy seems to be in and out on occasion, but that’s been the most consistent group we’ve had together,” Quenneville said. “They’ve been extremely successful. Everybody is doing [his] own thing in different ways but together it’s been a great thing for our team.”

So why does it work? For starters, Kane and Panarin are similar: crafty, shifty and able to beat opposing goaltenders in so many ways. The two clicked from the start. As Panarin recently said, through his interpreter Stan Stiopkin, “from the first game we already got together really well. It’s a natural chemistry. We have the same style, good chemistry.”

But you also need stability on a creative line, and that’s where Anisimov has been critical. The big center, who had a four-point night in the Blackhawks’ 5-1 victory over the Dallas Stars on Saturday night, has been great at providing a net-front presence and winning puck battles, allowing Kane and Panarin to play their games.

“I think he’s the perfect player to play with those two guys, Kaner and Bread Man: big body, responsible with the puck and at the same time, he’s a skilled player that can play a skilled game with those two guys,” Niklas Hjalmarsson said. “It’s fun to be on the ice with those three guys and [Anisimov] has been a perfect match for us.”

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Compared to Kane, Anisimov is on the other side of the line-familiarity spectrum. This is at least the third time in his career Anisimov has had consistent line mates. He said he, Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan played together for about half a season when the three were New York Rangers. During the 2012-13 lockout, when he played with Yaroslavl Lokomotiv, Anisimov was part of a successful line with Emil Galinov and Sergei Plotnikov.

So, are there any similarities between those lines and Anisimov’s current one?

“They all play different hockey. It’s hard to compare,” Anisimov said. “With these two guys, there’s so much fun. We play fun hockey.”

The Blackhawks’ second line has been fun to watch this season. It’s worked because it has the perfect blend of style and substance. That line stability has been beneficial to Kane and to the Blackhawks.

“It’s been nice to play with the same guys and get that chemistry and every time you go on the ice you know what to expect,” Kane said. “They’re a big reason for our team and my individual success.”

Sports Talk Live Podcast: Is Crawford ready to go?

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USA TODAY

Sports Talk Live Podcast: Is Crawford ready to go?

Jimmy Greenfield, Connor McKnight, and Matt Spiegel join Kap on the panel to discuss Corey Crawford back on the ice for the first time in 10 months. The Bears have good news when it comes to Khalil Mack, who injured his ankle against the Dolphins.

Plus, Fred Hoiberg announces that Jabari Parker is coming off the bench for the season opener.

Listen to the full episode here or via the embedded player below:

Niklas Hjalmarsson 'wasn't happy' about trade, but remembers time with Blackhawks fondly

Niklas Hjalmarsson 'wasn't happy' about trade, but remembers time with Blackhawks fondly

Apparently time doesn’t heal all wounds. 

Nearly a year and a half since being traded to the Coyotes, Niklas Hjalmarsson will return to the United Center ice on Thursday playing for the visiting team.  

“It’s going to be strange coming in as the away team and being in the other locker room,” said Hjalmarsson on Wednesday. “I bet it’s going to be a lot of emotions and mixed feelings.” 

This is also the first time Hjalmarsson has been back to the city of Chicago since he was traded, a city he called his “second home.” A home where he spent parts of 10 seasons, and never really planned on leaving.

“I wasn’t happy, to be honest with you,” said Hjalmarsson of the trade to Arizona. “I was shocked. It took me a couple days to actually realize I wasn’t going to play for the Hawks anymore.”

Including the playoffs, Hjalmarsson played 751 games in the Indian head sweater. Despite that and the team’s three Stanley Cup victories, the Blackhawks shipped him off to Arizona for Connor Murphy and Laurent Dauphin in June of 2017.

“You kind of let it go after a while,” he said. “Now I’m just hoping all the success for the guys over here too.”

Hjalmarsson was known for his toughness, repeatedly blocking shot after shot, giving up his body, while never missing a shift. He credits his long-time teammates — Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook — for a lot of his success and identity on the blue line.

“I couldn’t have had better role models coming into a team,” he said. “I’m very thankful to have played on the same team as those guys and created a lot of success together. We’re always going to be connected with the Cups that we’ve had.”

The third championship won by that defense-trio was on United Center ice against the Lightning in 2015, but that isn’t the memory that stands out most for Hjalmarsson.

“The first Cup is always going to be pretty special,” said the 31-year old. “Even just going to the conference final (in 2009), even when we lost against Detroit that year, the year before was great memories too. The first time for me going into the playoffs and playing deep.”

The tables have turned now for both Hjalmarsson and the Blackhawks. 

The Coyotes have yet to score an even-strength goal this season, while the Blackhawks have claimed eight of a possible 10 points thus far through five games and expect to have their starting goaltender back between the pipes. 

But you won’t hear any ill-will from Hjalmarsson, he’s still rooting for the Hawks.

“I always think that Chicago deserves to have a team in the playoffs,” he said. “It’s not that I wish them not to do well. It’s the total opposite. I want them to have continued success.”