Artem Anisimov out 3-4 weeks; Nick Schmaltz to assume his role
OTTAWA — Nick Schmaltz isn’t Artem Anisimov.
Schmaltz is more of a playmaker, a speedy and skilled guy with a knack for making jaw-dropping passes. Anisimov is more of a power forward, a big body who makes his living just outside the crease, screening goalies and banging home rebounds.
But when Schmaltz steps between Artemi Panarin and Patrick Kane, he seems to get the same results as Anisimov: a lot of chances and a lot of goals.
‘‘It’s two great players, and they make my job easy,’’ Schmaltz said. ‘‘I just try to find that open ice, and I know I’m going to get the puck from those guys because they have such good playmaking abilities. It’s pretty easy when you’re playing with two guys that kind of think the same game and always know where each other are on the ice.’’
Schmaltz has proved to be a worthy Plan B for the Hawks as a second-line center, and it’ll be his job for the foreseeable future. Anisimov will miss three to four weeks — just about the rest of the regular season — with an injury to his left leg suffered Tuesday against the Canadiens. Coach Joel Quenneville had said it wasn’t serious after the game, but Anisimov took a flight home Wednesday to Chicago while the team rode a bus from Montreal to Ottawa.
Quenneville said Anisimov, who set a career high with his 45th point Tuesday before getting injured, ‘‘hopefully’’ will be back before the playoffs. So Schmaltz will move from Jonathan Toews’ left wing to Kane’s center. And the Hawks are quite comfortable with him there after catching a glimpse this month when Anisimov was injured against the Penguins.
‘‘Both times when [Anisimov] went out, I thought he did an excellent job in that role,’’ Quenneville said of Schmaltz. ‘‘He looks like he’s comfortable there, not that he was uncomfortable playing with Jonny. He took advantage of a great opportunity there, as well. That versatility enhances his role going forward.’’
Kane said his game wouldn’t change much with Schmaltz instead of Anisimov, but the line might adapt to take advantage of Schmaltz’s speed and playmaking ability. Johnny Oduya’s goal Tuesday came off a broken two-on-one that Schmaltz directed, and Panarin’s goal was set up by a beautiful pass from the half wall by Schmaltz.
‘‘If we get him moving his feet in the middle, skating up the ice with speed, he can back off a lot of [defensemen],’’ Kane said. ‘‘Or if they don’t back off, we’ve got a chance to get some odd-man rushes. He brings that speed element to the line.
‘‘You saw [Tuesday] we had maybe three or four two-on-ones, and he made a couple of great plays, as well, on a couple of goals. It’s good to see him skate like that in the middle. That’s probably what we’ll try to stress the most.’’
Schmaltz is a natural center, but he knows he has to focus more on faceoffs now that he’s in the middle, especially with two wingers who don’t take faceoffs at all. Schmaltz won only two of 14 draws against the Canadiens.
‘‘It’s a little different,’’ he said. ‘‘I need to be better defensively and on the draw. I struggled on the draw [Tuesday]; it was tough just getting thrown in there. But I’m working to get better.’’
NOTE: Rookie John Hayden likely will make his NHL debut on Jonathan Toews’ line Thursday against the Senators. The Yale product signed last week and has a limited window to prove himself worthy of a spot in the postseason lineup.
‘‘To be honest, playing with anyone would be a great opportunity,’’ Hayden said. ‘‘The whole locker room is filled with household names. It’s exciting.’’
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