Artem Anisimov has started skating again, and it begs the question: What potential line combinations might the Chicago Blackhawks try out to kickstart the offense when he returns to the lineup?
The Chicago Blackhawks are on the outside of the playoffs and looking for answers heading into their winter break. After a devastating 4-0 loss to the Detroit Red Wings on Sunday, the second loss in three games at the United Center, there is a full week of speculating what needs to happen to get the ‘Hawks back on track.
Maybe the only good news from the weekend came from coach Joel Quenneville on Saturday.
While Quenneville said “he was just OK,” it appears, if Anisimov is skating again, the ‘Hawks may be getting No. 15 back in the lineup soon; maybe as soon as Saturday, when the New York Islanders visit Chicago. The return of Anisimov to the lineup may not put the ‘Hawks over the top and into the playoffs, but it certainly can’t hurt their chances.
Anisimov has not been in the ‘Hawks’ lineup since Dec. 28, when he was injured in a game against the Vancouver Canucks. The team is 5-3-1 in his absence, outscoring its opponents 31-24 in that span. Not too shabby, all things considered, but if the ‘Hawks are going to get in the playoffs, they are going to need to start winning the majority of their games
So where does Anisimov fit in when he returns?
Before Anisimov can be placed anywhere, the first question is which of the current centers not named Jonathan Toews is the odd man out. When Anisimov went down, it seemed like David Kampf‘s call-up would be an interim stay with the team to cover for the loss of Arty.
But who knew we would be talking about the need to keep Kampf around just a few weeks later? Maybe no one, but when the season started I also didn’t think I would be seeing Kampf, Anthony Duclair and Jeff Glass leading the struggling Blackhawks to a win against the division-leading Jets in January. These things happen in today’s parity-driven NHL.
Kampf now has a goal and four assists in his 10 games up with the team. While that may not be blowing you away, he has also had a 52.5 faceoff win percentage (a welcome number for a ‘Hawks team that has struggled overall at the dot) and a 55.6 Corsi-for percentage.
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But if Kampf is to stay up, who moves away from center? The best answer seems to be moving Wingels to wing and moving Kampf into the fourth-line center slot. Wingels could play right wing with Patrick Sharp playing across on the left wing. In this scenario, Lance Bouma would be the odd man out.
Nick Schmaltz, while struggling at faceoffs this season (40.1 percent), would stay on the second line with Patrick Kane and Ryan Hartman, who have all played well together since Anisimov went down. Some may argue Schmaltz needs to move back to wing with his faceoff numbers, but I think the Blackhawks benefit a lot more from spreading Anisimov and Schmaltz on two separate lines.
That leaves the third-line center position for Anisimov, where he would be surrounded by the speedy Duclair and Alex DeBrincat, a line that looks pretty intriguing on paper. If Anisimov comes back and plays a strong puck possession game and continues to create traffic in front of the net, both Duclair and DeBrincat would be beneficiaries.
Of course, there is the chance Quenneville wants to boost his second line and moves Schmaltz back to the left wing for Anisimov to center between him and Kane. If this was to happen, you would think the third and fourth line would stay pretty much the same, except for Hartman maybe replacing Bouma on the bottom line.
But this still leaves the ‘Hawks in a position where they are not likely going to get much production from their bottom six. If you are going to take full advantage of Anisimov returning, it feels like his best place is on the third line, or a return to the second line with Schmaltz dropping to third-line center. Anisimov and Schmaltz playing together just does not make sense for the balance of the whole lineup.
Anisimov’s return will hopefully be a welcome addition to the lineup and give the Blackhawks a little momentum offensively. While many may argue Anisimov needs to go back to centering a line with Kane on his wing, utilizing Schmaltz as a center and moving Anisimov down would give the ‘Hawks a lot more balance in their lineup.
If Anisimov was to return and boost the third line, the Blackhawks could be a lot harder to handle. The current lineup really only has two lines that are a scoring threat, and opposing coaches are able to game plan with the best defensive forwards going up against the top two lines. A Duclair-Anisimov-DeBrincat line could potentially be a very tough combination for teams to defend against and could give the ‘Hawks a much-needed advantage down the stretch this season.