GLENDALE, Ariz. — If it were obvious, Artem Anisimov would have done something about it by now. If opponents were playing his line differently, he could adapt. If certain passes were being telegraphed and certain shots were being anticipated and certain set plays were being pre-empted, he could come up with something new.
But it’s not that simple. It’s not that obvious. Frankly, Anisimov doesn’t quite know what’s wrong with the Blackhawks’ vaunted second line. He just knows everything feels a bit off.
“It’s hard to explain,” he said. “The game’s just not coming our way. We just need to find a way — find a way to click again, and score goals, and create chances. We’re going to find it.”
They’d better. The Hawks have too often been a one-line team over the past two seasons, and lately, that one line has been coming up empty. Anisimov hasn’t scored in 11 games. Artemi Panarin hasn’t scored in nine games, and was unusually unnoticeable in Tuesday’s 3-1 loss in San Jose. And Patrick Kane has just three goals in his last 11 games.
Just about every line goes through natural ebbs and flows over the course of a season. But this isn’t just any line. So when Joel Quenneville split them up for parts of the Sharks game, it was noteworthy. Quenneville always has an itchy trigger finger with his lines, but not that one. And sure enough, the trio was back together at Wednesday’s practice at Gila River Arena.
“I still think there’s always something there,” Quenneville said. “It’s a lot for the opponents to be concerned with, to try and prevent. [If] they get one goal, or a couple of scoring chances again, they could be ignited quickly. For a year and change, that line’s been the best in the game. We know it has a lot of capabilities.”
What it doesn’t have right now is a lot of confidence. Interestingly, both Anisimov and Kane lamented how little they’ve had the puck lately. But in the past 11 games, the line has posted some of its best possession numbers of the season. Kane and Panarin, in particularly, have been dominating play, with the Hawks taking more than 58 percent of the total shot attempts when they’re on the ice.
But it hasn’t translated to goals. As a result, the Hawks, always among the league leaders in offense, are just 14th in goals per game at 2.71.
“We’re probably the one line that can generate a little more and start creating for the good of the team, and help the overall team game,” Kane said. “That’s on us. That’s our job to create offense. Not only that, but just to get our team momentum. Our power play hasn’t been as good this year, and it’s probably affecting the overall game, too. I think all three of us can be better in that area.”
Indeed, the Hawks are 1-for-20 on the power play since Jan. 13. And while Quenneville kept the trio together for 5-on-5 play, he broke them up on the power-play units on Wednesday to try to inject some life. Marian Hossa was with Panarin and Anisimov, while Kane was with Jonathan Toews’ unit.
Kane has just two power-play goals all season, after scoring 17 last season on his way to the scoring title and Hart Trophy.
“Sometimes if things aren’t working, you change it just to maybe get some energy and some excitement and different looks,” Kane said. “I know myself, personally, I can definitely be better in that area, especially his season. It’s a little bit frustrating, but in that regard, it’s more about bearing down, almost working harder than you do on a 5-on-5 shift. Sometimes you get that extra man, you think it’s going to be easy.”
Everything always has seemed to come easy for Panarin, Anisimov and Kane. But for nearly a month now, it’s been getting harder and harder.
“It’s frustrating, but we just need to not get too frustrated,” Anisimov said. “It’s up to us to find a way quickly and get back on track. It’s hard to say why it’s not working. But we know what we can do. We just need to go out and play.”