By Brian Hedger
For the Sun-Times
He didn’t practice Friday, but there’s a chance rookie Artemi Panarin will play Saturday night at the United Center.
The Blackhawks have lost the past two games without Panarin, who’s been sick, and have another tough game on tap against the Anaheim Ducks. The sooner Panarin returns, the better — not only for the Blackhawks but specifically Artem Anisimov and Patrick Kane.
His linemates haven’t looked the same without the leading candidate to win the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s top rookie.
“We’re encouraged there today,” said coach Joel Quenneville, who put his team through a spirited practice at the United Center. “He was around. Didn’t skate today, but he was working out off the ice, so he made good progress today. So … hopefully he’s playing.”
Quenneville will be the only head coach in the building with his fingers crossed for that outcome. Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau has had his fill of Panarin.
“I think he’s a really great player,” Boudreau said after Anaheim’s practice. “I mean, we’ve seen him twice and that was enough.”
The Blackhawks’ issues without Panarin haven’t been tied solely to him. Puck possession lagged team-wide during a 2-0 loss to San Jose on Tuesday, and the defensive effort in a 4-2 loss Thursday to Dallas was virtually non-existent in the Stars’ four-goal first period.
“You don’t want to put it on one player,” Quenneville said. “There’s obviously an absence and a void with (Panarin) not playing, but we’re definitely … our pace and our game the last two games wasn’t as high or as good as it has been throughout most of the stretches the last couple of months.”
Quenneville addressed those issues with a rare practice with just one day between games. He went to an old favorite drill too, “Battle drills.”
The Blackhawks know exactly what it means when Quenneville calls for “battle drills” in practice, when they’re pitted against each other 1-on-1, 2-on-2 and 3-on-3 in confined areas on the ice.
“We lost a couple games, and it’s not fun,” said Teuvo Teravainen, who hasn’t scored a goal in 16 games. “We’ve got to practice harder to get the wins and get back on track. We need to win the little battles. There’s a lot of little battles in the game, so we’ve got to be tough and win those.”
The first battle will be getting Panarin back. Despite possessing a high level of skill, Panarin isn’t afraid to mix it up along the walls and in corners to retain the puck.
That tenacity has been missed. Quenneville had just hoped it wouldn’t be so obvious.
“Hopefully it’s more of a team thing,” he said. “We appreciate what (Panarin) brings to our team. He’s got intangibles, as well. We’ll give him credit that we missed him, but at the same time it shouldn’t be that noticeable. Those two games, I’m not pinning it on him. We weren’t collectively good enough in a lot of areas.”
Crawford gets outdoor gear
Corey Crawford has a new mask and goalie gear to use when the Blackhawks play the Minnesota Wild on Feb. 21 at the University of Minnesota’s TCF Bank Stadium.
Crawford helped design the paint scheme on the mask, which is glossy and has metallic snowflakes interspersed over a black, red and white design. Crawford’s number (50) is painted on the top and “HAWKS” is across the chin.