It doesn’t take a hockey genius to figure out that the best way to beat the Blackhawks is to load up against their dynamic second line. For most of the last 16 months, the Hawks have been a one-line team, their offense carried by the high-scoring trio of Artemi Panarin, Artem Anisimov and Patrick Kane.
And the more those three produce, and the more the other nine forwards struggle to score, the tougher the sledding gets.
“They maybe pay more attention to us, how we play in the zone, or how we break out,” Anisimov said. “We always try hard to score, but you cannot score every game. We just need to try to find a way to beat them.”
The bad news is other teams seem to finally be figuring them out. After the 5-2 loss to the Lightning on Tuesday night, Anisimov had no goals and two assists in his last nine games. Panarin had no goals and three assists in his last seven games (falling out of the top 10 in the league in scoring, which could prevent him from cashing in on his salary-cap-altering bonus). Kane has three goals in his last nine games, but one of them came during a spin with Jonathan Toews on the top line.
The good news is the Hawks went 6-3 in those games, and are finally seeing the rest of the lineup step up in their absence. The third and fourth lines — led by the likes of Tanner Kero, Vinnie Hinostroza and Nick Schmaltz — were on the ice for all six Hawks goals against the Avalanche last Tuesday, and for the only goal against the Bruins on Friday. And Toews had a four-point night in Sunday’s win over the Canucks with his new linemates, Ryan Hartman and Richard Panik.
If the other lines can keep that up, it should eventually loosen things up for the Anisimov line. After all, that’s the main reason coach Joel Quenneville keeps Kane and Toews on separate lines — to force opposing coaches to pick their poison. The decision has been far too easy on opposing coaches for much of the season. A Toews resurgence, along with some depth scoring from the bottom six, could open up some more favorable matchups for the second line to exploit.
“If all four lines can play the same way, then everybody’s going to score,” Anisimov said. “It’s good for us and it’s good for the team.”
Nobody’s too concerned about Panarin, Anisimov and Kane, despite their recent power outage. In a season and a half, the trio has combined for 146 goals. Every other player who’s been in the Hawks lineup in that span has combined for just 226.
“It’s always going to be tough for those guys, knowing the standard they set [last year] and the consistency of being a productive line,” Quenneville said. “It’s an ongoing challenge for them, but we feel that that line’s got so many different ways of finding a way to loosen things up and get some shifts in the offensive zone and be dangerous. Even when they don’t score, they absorb a lot of the other team’s quality ice time.”
Confidence is never an issue for the trio, either. After all they’ve done since the start of last season, a little eight-game drought is hardly going to send them into a panic.
“We know we can score and we can create moments,” Anisimov said. “But sometimes the goalie plays good, sometimes the defensemen play good, and sometimes you just don’t score. We just need to find a way.”
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