Panik nets hat trick in Blackhawks’ victory

Panik nets hat trick in Blackhawks’ victory

Last fall, Richard Panik was sent to the Toronto Maple Leafs’ minor league team. This fall he started on the Blackhawks’ top line.

On Saturday he recorded his first career hat trick.

Panik scored three, including the game-winner, and Scott Darling stopped 33 of 36 shots as the Blackhawks beat the Nashville Predators 5-3 on Saturday night. The Blackhawks picked up their first victory of the season and Panik recorded his first hat trick in – well, he’s not sure exactly when but it’s been a while.

“I don’t even remember,” Panik said with a smile. “Maybe in juniors. Yeah, maybe juniors.”

Nick Schmaltz scored the first goal of his NHL career and Brent Seabrook added a power-play goal. This one got closer than the Blackhawks would’ve liked, especially after they had a 3-0 lead midway through the game, but they’ll take the two points.

“I didn’t like how we let them get back in the game. Even at 3-0, they had their turn to get something earlier than that and then chipped away,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “Definitely a big play at the end. Nice play by Kaner.”

That play by Patrick Kane led to Panik’s third goal with 1:31 remaining in regulation. Darling was pivotal throughout and kept the Predators from finding the equalizer late.

“Yeah, I felt pretty good today,” Darling said. “Obviously some things I need to work on, it wasn’t all perfect. But nice to get the first one out of the way, get the jitters out and get a win.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]​

The Blackhawks, overall, still had their jittery moments. They allowed another power-play goal – that’s seven through three games. As pointed out earlier, a seemingly comfortable lead nearly disappeared twice; Craig Smith’s power-play goal made it 3-2 late in the second period and Viktor Arvidsson’s goal pulled the Predators to within one again, 4-3, midway through the third.

As for Panik, he got his goals the way Quenneville always preaches: by getting to the net. His first was a behind-the-back backhand that gave the Blackhawks that 3-0 lead midway through the first period. His second was his finishing a Marian Hossa drive. At first it looked like it was Hossa, who would’ve had his 500th career goal.

“I wasn’t sure,” Quenneville said afterward on who scored that goal. “Pans had the bigger celebration, so…”

The Blackhawks’ first victory wasn’t a dominating one by any means. They got there thanks to great goaltending, and from a guy who’s gone from the minors in Toronto to the top line in Chicago.

“Those first two games, I got an opportunity on the top line and we lost those two games. So we weren’t happy about it,” Panik said. “But tonight we won, so we are pretty happy.”

Blackhawks assign Anton Forsberg to Rockford after clearing waivers

Blackhawks assign Anton Forsberg to Rockford after clearing waivers

Anton Forsberg cleared waivers on Tuesday morning and was assigned to the Rockford IceHogs in the American Hockey League.

That's good news for the Blackhawks organizational depth chart, with Forsberg as the No. 3 in goal. But it also complicates things in Rockford, where Collin Delia and Kevin Lankinen have been sharing the duties.

Delia is 3-1-0 with a 3.26 goals against average and .910 save percentage while Lankinen is 0-1-1 with a 3.39 GAA and .825 save percentage. Perhaps the most likely scenario is Lankinen gets sent to the ECHL with the Indy Fuel while Delia and Forsberg split the load in Rockford.

It's certainly a good problem to have, but it's still unclear how that dynamic will play out.

"We haven’t talked about that," coach Joel Quenneville said. "But we expect [Forsberg] to play."

Luke Johnson recalled

With a spot opening up on the 23-man roster, Johnson is being brought back up after he was squeezed out by Corey Crawford's return. He had a goal and an assist in two games with Rockford.

Brandon Saad returns to top-six role

After turning in arguably his best performance of the season on Sunday, Saad is back playing on the second line with Artem Anisimov and Patrick Kane. He had seven shot attempts (three on goal) against Tampa Bay and led the team in 5-on-5 possession numbers.

"[Saad] is coming off a game where we liked what we saw," Quenneville said. "Playing with Kaner can help him get going."

Nick Schmaltz to play right side for first time in NHL career

Eight games into the season and Schmaltz has spent time at both center and left wing. Now he'll get a look on the right side with Alexandre Fortin on the left and David Kampf centering the third line.

Part of the reason for Schmaltz’s move to the right side was because Quenneville said they like Fortin on the left. It's not unfamiliar territory for Schmaltz, but could take some time getting used to.

"I played a little while back, not sure when," Schmaltz said "Just a little bit different. Catching pucks on your forehand now instead of your backhand. It's not a huge adjustment, just play with speed and compete hard and hopefully the skill on our line will take over."

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 ECHL 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.