Blackhawks

Why Kane-Panarin split might be necessary for Blackhawks

Why Kane-Panarin split might be necessary for Blackhawks

Patrick Kane was in a rare situation last season, playing with linemates Artemi Panarin and Artem Anisimov for practically the entire season. His chemistry with Panarin was especially noticeable.

Now Kane and Panarin might be separated because the Blackhawks need more than one line to work this season. Asked about that potential split on Saturday night, Kane’s answer was diplomatic.

“Last year, I think, is probably the one year that I really only played with a couple players, so I'm used to playing all over the place, playing with different guys,” Kane said. “We'll see what happens. I know they wanted to try something different for the game tonight and maybe throughout preseason, so I'll just play where they tell me to play, I guess.”

We don’t know what will happen if Kane and Panarin are split for a decent amount of time, but we certainly know what they can do when they’re together. We got a reminder of that on Saturday night when, put together again after a penalty kill, Kane hit Panarin with a perfect backhand pass. Panarin finished with a slick slap shot, snapping the Blackhawks’ preseason scoreless streak.

But here’s what we have to remember with all of this: If the split happens it’s not because coach Joel Quenneville wants to do it. It’s because right now, he has to do it. The Blackhawks’ depth at forward is thin, the thinnest it’s been in quite some time. Need a reminder of how depleted it is? Here are some of the forwards who were here last year who are now gone: Teuvo Teravainen, Bryan Bickell, Andrew Shaw, Marko Dano and Phillip Danault. You can also add Andrew Ladd, Dale Weise and Tomas Fleischmann — all acquired around the trade deadline — if you’d like.

Yeah.

[SHOP BLACKHAWKS: Get your Blackhawks gear right here]

The second line’s chemistry last season was beyond impressive. It worked, almost automatically; and thanks in large part to that line’s production and Corey Crawford’s goaltending, the Blackhawks put together a nice regular season. But one line does not a team make. The team wasn’t even close to getting that usual four-line rotation going last season, and if you don’t have that, you’re not going far.

Most attempts at finding Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa a top-line left wing failed. Quenneville is trying to spread the wealth, trying to give Toews that left wing, trying to make the most of what little depth he has. Panarin, who did play a few times with Toews last season, understands it might be necessary.

“Obviously I’m ready to play with anyone. That’s my role,” Panarin said through translator Igor Alfimov. “I played with Kane more last season, that’s why — that’s my experience. But I’m ready to play with anyone.”

But for grins, let’s look at another option: Could Tyler Motte emerge as a potential top-line left wing? The 21-year-old, who scored two goals in Saturday’s game, has been the best forward prospect in training camp thus far. He’s smart, he’s poised and he’s strong on the penalty kill. Quenneville loved what he saw out of Motte, and a Motte-Toews-Hossa combination would be worth a look. (Yes, we know Hossa could end up on that third line with Marcus Kruger again, but at the start it seems best he join Toews).

And Quenneville knows even if Kane and Panarin aren’t linemates, they won’t be completely separated.

“Over the course of a season you know they’ll be together at times. But that’s something that’s going to get sorted out,” Quenneville said. “The chemistry among the two of them is special. They’ll always (have) some shifts together. Whether (or not) they will be permanently together is something we’ll evaluate.”

Kane and Panarin formed a productive duo. You know what you get when they’re together. Breaking them up isn’t the most welcome move, but right now it might be a necessary one.

2010 Hawks Rewind: 3 things we noticed in Blackhawks' Game 1 win over Sharks

2010 Hawks Rewind: 3 things we noticed in Blackhawks' Game 1 win over Sharks

In honor of the 10-year anniversary of the 2010 Stanley Cup team, NBC Sports Chicago is re-airing each of the Blackhawks' 16 postseason wins from the run that ended a 49-year championship drought. You can join the conversation using #HawksRewind on social media.

Despite opening the Western Conference Final on the road, the Blackhawks overcame an early deficit to defeat the San Jose Sharks 2-1 in Game 1 at HP Pavillon. Here are three things we noticed in the win:

1. An epic goaltending battle

The Blackhawks and Sharks ranked third and fourth, respectively, in goals per game going into the playoffs, so it wasn't a surprise to see two of the NHL's best offensive teams reach the Final Four.

The offensive firepower was on full display in Game 1, with the two teams combining for 85 shots on goal, 68 scoring chances and 22 high-danger chances, according to Natural Stat Trick. But it was the goaltending that stole the show.

Antti Niemi made a career-high 44 saves on 45 shots for a save percentage of .978. He also stopped all 13 high-danger chances. His counterpart Evgeni Nabokov turned aside 38 of 40 shots, including all nine high-danger chances, for a save percentage of .950. 

2. Escaping the special teams nightmare

The Blackhawks made Game 1 very difficult on themselves in the special teams department. They committed five minor penalties compared to the Sharks' zero, which is as lopsided a ratio as you'll ever see in the playoffs.

The Sharks capitalized on one of those five chances but credit the Blackhawks for hanging in on the other four. They played a full 60 minutes without a single man advantage and made sure it wasn't the reason they lost the game.

3. The legend of Dustin Byfuglien grows

You are going to see a lot of Byfuglien in this series, and he didn't waste any time.

In a 1-1 tie, a wide-open Big Buff pounded his stick on the ice, received a pass from Patrick Kane in the high slot and buried a slap shot past Nabokov with 6:45 left in regulation and it turned out to be the game-winner.

Byfuglien scored a goal in all four games and was credited with the game-winner in three of them. Game 1 was just the start.

Attention Dish and Sling customers! You have lost your Blackhawks games on NBC Sports Chicago. To switch providers, visit mysportschicago.com.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Blackhawks easily on your device.

Blackhawks re-sign Highmore, Lankinen, agree to terms with 2 prospects

Blackhawks re-sign Highmore, Lankinen, agree to terms with 2 prospects

The Blackhawks announced on Thursday that they have re-signed pending restricted free agent forward Matthew Highmore and goaltender Kevin Lankinen, and agreed to terms with forward prospects Evan Barratt and Andrei Altybarmakyan on entry-level contracts.

Highmore's deal runs for two years through the 2021-22 season and carries a $725,000 average annual value (AAV). Lankinen's deal is also for two years and runs through the 2021-22 campaign, and carries a $800,000 AAV.

Barratt's deal runs for three years through the 2022-23 season and carries an $870,000 AAV, while Altybarmakyan's is a two-year deal that runs through the 2021-22 campaign and carries a $817,500 AAV.

Highmore has six points (two goals, four assists) in 36 games with the Blackhawks this season and registered 12 points (four goals, eight assists) in 21 games with the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League. Lankinen went 8-10-2 with a 3.03 goals against average and .909 save percentage for Rockford before undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery on March 2.

Barratt, who was drafted by the Blackhawks in the third round (No. 90 overall) of the 2017 NHL Draft, is the most notable signing. He registered a team-high 12 goals and 22 assists for 34 points in 34 games during his junior season at Penn State, and was also a Hobey Baker nominee in 2019 after setting career-highs in goals (16), assists (27) and points (43) as a sophomore.

Altybarmakyan was also taken in the third round (No. 70 overall) of the 2017 NHL Draft. He registered career highs in goals (six), assists (11) and points (17) in 49 games this season for HK Sochi of the Kontinental Hockey League, and appeared in three games for HK Tambov of the VHL.

With the re-signing of Highmore and Lankinen, the Blackhawks now have nine pending restricted free agents, which most notably includes Drake Caggiula, Dominik Kubalik and Dylan Strome.

Attention Dish and Sling customers! You have lost your Blackhawks games on NBC Sports Chicago. To switch providers, visit mysportschicago.com.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Blackhawks easily on your device.