The Chicago Blackhawks’ third line is the last to find its groove as the season unfolds, but its most frequent center is someone who could change that
Since the Chicago Blackhawks exploded out of the gate with 15 goals in their first two games, their offensive output has been shaky. The offense sputtered when breakout second-line center Nick Schmaltz went down with an injury. Offensive depth was tested as a chain reaction of backfills resulted in a dearth of scoring.
Now that Schmaltz has returned, the second line is once again keeping pace with the top line of Brandon Saad, Jonathan Toews and Richard Panik. In the last two games, Lance Bouma, Tommy Wingels and John Hayden have built chemistry as a physically intimidating fourth line. They even found themselves on the scoresheet against the Arizona Coyotes.
But the third line of Patrick Sharp, Artem Anisimov and Alex DeBrincat has not managed to jell like the other three lines. Collectively, they have three goals and two assists for five points. So what’s the deal with this talented group of players? The player to look at is Anisimov.
Since suffering a severe high ankle sprain late in the 2016-17 season, Anisimov has not delivered the same impactful play that was part of the “AK72 Line” that season. That line was touted as one of the best in the NHL. But even in that season, there were some troubling signs.
This season, Anisimov has looked to be a step slower and not the “glue” guy for his talented wingers. While still effective with a long stick and smart positioning on the penalty kill, he’s been an anchor for Sharp and DeBrincat offensively. If we look at some advanced stats, the picture comes into focus.
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Per Corsica, Anisimov is the worst Blackhawks forward in almost every relevant category. He is the worst in points per 60 minutes, relative corsi-for percentage and expected goals for percentage. The link to the entire stats page is here.
So individually, Anisimov is scoring at the lowest rate, worst in possession and worst in scoring chances. The physical condition of Sharp has not been a concern, and he has looked strong on the puck. Rookie DeBrincat, a former OHL scoring phenom, has shown enough ability and hockey IQ to stick with the big club. Their advanced stats are lagging, but this is probably is attributable to Anisimov’s lackluster play.
So what is the solution?
Some people are preaching patience with Anisimov, such as Satchel Price of Second City Hockey. Some are saying that it’s time to move on from Anisimov, such as @BarstoolChief.
I’m going with the patient approach, but not for very long. As DeBrincat comes along under the mentorship of Sharp, the two could build a type of chemistry that could work around Anisimov’s physical presence. And that’s the key.
If Anisimov has lost a step, he needs to step up his physical game to open up the ice for his two wingers. If this formula doesn’t work, then a more mobile center will have to be inserted.
I’m not in the Tanner Kero fan club. He’s a nice center, but he’s not even Kruger 2.0. However, they both tend to get killed every episode like South Park Kenny, don’t they?
A forgotten man has been Vinnie Hinostroza, who is currently heating things up in Rockford. While his hands have not been a match to his superior skating speed, he could be the complementary mobile center between a couple of skilled wingers. Food for thought.
The Chicago Sun-Times’ Mark Lazerus reports that in Las Vegas, the forward lines are staying the same from the Arizona game.
So in the desert, we get to see the patient approach in-game against the Golden Knights. Let’s hope Anisimov can tap into his inner Roadrunner spirit animal, and if that’s not possible, be more of a Tasmanian Devil. And as always, Let’s Go ‘Hawks!