In a pinch, Nick Schmaltz again does the job at second-line center

In a pinch, Nick Schmaltz again does the job at second-line center

MONTREAL – Nick Schmaltz didn't wait for the puck to settle down along the boards, instead immediately passing to the slot, where Artemi Panarin soon arrived, collected the puck and scored what proved to be the game-winning goal.

A guess Panarin would be there? Luck? Something else?

“Awareness. You know where your line mates are on the ice,” Schmaltz said. “They’re pretty predictable, always in the same areas, always find that open space. It makes my job pretty easy.”

And with Artem Anisimov now slated to miss a few weeks, second-line center will be Schmaltz’s job.

Anisimov, considered day-to-day not long after he sustained his left-leg injury against the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday night, will now miss 3-4 weeks, coach Joel Quenneville told the traveling media on Wednesday. Anisimov was seen late Wednesday morning at the airport in Montreal on Wednesday morning. Wearing a walking boot on his left leg, Anisimov was heading back to Chicago. But in Anisimov’s absence, the Blackhawks are more than confident that Schmaltz can handle the job.

“Very comfortable with him in the middle with those two guys,” Quenneville said following the Blackhawks’ 4-2 victory over Montreal. “It seems both times he stepped in with them in the middle of a game, it looks like he belongs there. So it’s been a good fit between the three of them. They’re dangerous off the rush, they see plays. Schmaltz in the faceoff circle, not taking draws while playing with Jonny [Toews] there, it’s something he can spend a little time doing. But we like him with the puck and with those guys.”

Schmaltz filled the second-line center spot rather seamlessly on March 1, when Anisimov hobbled off early in the Blackhawks’ victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins. Yes, the faceoffs would be an issue but as it stands, especially with Anisimov likely not missing much time, it’s still a solid option.

“Great job,” Kane said of Schmaltz’s work there on Tuesday. “I think when he gets that chance, it looks like he’s excited. He played the first time there so he’s excited about playing there. If we get him moving his feet in the middle, skating with a lot of speed he can back off a lot of D we have a chance to get some odd-man rushes. He brings that speed element to the line. We saw tonight we had three or four 2-on-1s and he made a couple great plays on a couple of goals as well. Good to see him skate like that in the middle and that’s probably what we’ll try to stress for him to bring the most.”

Regardless of his line mates, Schmaltz is often still too reluctant to shoot – he admits that. But passing to Kane or Panarin usually yields good results.

“Yeah, obviously they’re two great players who make it pretty easy to play. I just drive to the net and create space for them and try to give them the puck as much as I can. Maybe shoot more. I had a couple of chances and I probably should’ve shot a few of those,” Schmaltz said. “But I felt comfortable in there and easy to play with.”

Does Schmaltz fill that second-line center void the entire time Anisimov’s out? We shall see. We all know how line changes happen with this team. But as of now, Schmaltz has proven he can do the job there.

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: Blackhawks offense finally opens things up as Patrick Kane starts streaking

USA Today

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: Blackhawks offense finally opens things up as Patrick Kane starts streaking

On the latest Blackhawks Talk Podcast, Pat Boyle and Charlie Roumeliotis break down the changes made to the Hawks defensive zone coverage (1:50) and Patrick Kane’s current points streak (7:30). They also discuss how most of the players that have been scratched recently have had bounce-back efforts (11:20), as well as the improved play of Erik Gustafsson (18:12) and both special teams units (20:16). Plus, the debut of “Checkpoint Charlie," where Charlie gives us a taste of life on the road and his encounter with Chris Rock’s brother (29:00).

Listen here or in the embedded player below. 


Blackhawks Talk Podcast


Jeremy Colliton explains schematic change and why Blackhawks made it

Jeremy Colliton explains schematic change and why Blackhawks made it

The Blackhawks made a schematic change after their four-game road trip and they've seen the benefits of it immediately. They're 2-0-1 in their past three games and have scored 12 goals over that stretch.

We broke down on Monday what changes were made systematically and how it has freed up the offense, but head coach Jeremy Colliton elaborated on it Tuesday and explained the reasoning behind the decision.

"All it is is, our weak side forward, we pushed him up higher in defensive zone coverage," Colliton said. "Before, we had four low a lot of times, to try and overload in certain situations. That's good, it gets you out of D-zone, but the problem is when you win the puck back, a lot of times you're very close together and it's harder to make clean plays, it's harder to exit with space to make plays. So we were having trouble entering the zone.

"There's been a lot of talk about how we have been dumping too many pucks in. Well, we're not trying to dump the puck in, but when you're attacking and you don't have numbers, you don't have space in behind, you have to, you're forced too. I think we're doing a much better job of getting from D-zone clean, because we have a forward a little bit higher, there's a little more space, it happens quicker. And then I think we've done a good job with the low three [of] someone jumping by and then we can create a little bit more space off the rush and we don't have to chip it in. We can enter clean, make some plays and I think the guys are doing very well."

Patrick Kane, who has erupted for seven points (four goals, three assists) in the past three games since the change, sees the change opening up more opportunities for the Blackhawks on offense.

"I think a lot of us probably stressed that there wasn't as much flow to it, for whatever reason that was," Kane said. "They made a change and all of a sudden it seems like we have more options coming out of our end, we have more motion, more speed coming out of our end, which is always a good thing."

The Blackhawks' dump-in rate, as Colliton noted, has been much higher this season and it’s noteworthy because they generated a lot of their offense off the rush last season from mid-December and on. But what we didn’t know was the exact reason why the Blackhawks altered the way they entered the offensive zone.

Aside from the obvious answer of cutting down on neutral zone turnovers and limiting the amount of odd-man rushes against, Colliton notes the Blackhawks were forced to dump it in more because they weren’t entering the zone with numbers. The defensive scheme didn’t really allow them to.

But with the recent fundamental change, the Blackhawks have more options to exit their own zone cleanly, pick up speed through the neutral zone and do what they do best: by carrying the puck in and having more freedom to create offense. It’s something the coaching staff and players discussed with each other, and the consensus is it will maximize the talent of this group.

"We kind of felt it was time," Colliton said. "I mean, we're always talking with them for sure and guys, they want to score more. They want to produce, guys want to make plays. And so we're just trying to find the balance. We want to continue to work on being good defensively, but we've got to score more than them. I think we can still hold onto those defensive gains we've made and score more goals."

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