CALGARY, Alberta — Asked about Brandon Saad’s inconsistency this season, Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville indirectly expressed frustration with Saad’s inability to go to the net.
“If you’re not scoring, find a way to get there and you might get some ugly goals,” Quenneville said. But, he added, “you’ve got to be willing to get there.”
At this point of a difficult season, Quenneville is going to lean on players who are willing to get to the net. Perhaps that’s why he bumped center Artem Anisimov from the third line into Saad’s second-line spot with Patrick Kane and Nick Schmaltz and moved Saad down to the third line with Tommy Wingels and Lance Bouma for Saturday night’s game against the Flames.
RELATED STORIES Blackhawks’ two-game win streak is history after 4-2 loss to Canucks Blackhawks notebook: Ex-Hawks fan Brock Boeser a star of stars already
Other than maybe Jonathan Toews, no player on the team has an appreciation for the value of getting in front of the net like the 6-4, 198-pound Anisimov.
“What’s great about Arty is he’s a big body and he goes to the net,” Wingels said. “Is he the fastest guy? No. But why is he able to get there when other guys who are faster and quicker don’t? It’s all about will.”
And it’s more than that, Quenne-ville said. Just getting in front of the net doesn’t guarantee success in getting “ugly” goals.
“He’s got the willingness, but he’s got the art, as well,” Quenne-ville said. “He’s got a quick stick. His positioning is good, whether he’s tipping pucks or finding them. He’s got a real good knack about it.
“He’s got a quality opportunity not just playing with Kaner, but you get on the power play. There’s good ice time when you fill that niche.”
Anisimov could use the jump-start himself. He scored 13 goals in the Hawks’ first 30 games, including a hat trick in a victory over the Rangers in which all three goals were scored in front of the net. But he hasn’t scored in his last 11 games, including five since returning after missing 10 games with an upper-body injury.
Playing with two highly skilled players such as Kane and Schmaltz is good for him, too.
“We complement each other,” Anisimov said. “Playing with two skill guys, it’s always fun to play with them. They can make plays, and I just need to capitalize on the chances they create.”
The idea is not only for Anisimov to produce goals in front of the net, but for others to emulate his style.
“He knows that’s where the goals are scored,” Wingels said. “If you look at all of Arty’s goals in his career, I guarantee you the majority of them are right in that area — tip-ins, rebounds. People call them cheap goals, but those are the best goals in the game.
“Guys can take a page out of his book, I think, whether it’s a first-line guy or a fourth-line guy. As a team, we’ve talked about it. We’ve got to do better collectively.”
And as Kane pointed out, Anisimov can do more than just score in front of the net.
“One thing about [Anisimov], he’s like one of those guys that is undercover skilled,” Kane said. “You watch him in practice, he scores all the time on his shot. He’s got a great shot.
“And when he gets in front of the net, he has that patience and poise to be able to put the puck in the net. I think after a couple of games now, we’re probably looking forward to getting him back to a contributing factor and helping the team do what he does best — which is score goals and get in front of the net and just create havoc.”
Follow me on Twitter