Despite slow start, 20-goal season remains a target for Blackhawks’ Artem Anisimov
Flames goalie Mike Smith was splayed out on the ice, his head facing the opposite direction from where Anisimov stood, and all he needed to do was loft the puck a little bit over Smith to put away his sixth goal of the season.
Instead, Smith instinctively raised his leg in the air to make a remarkable save that deflected Anisimov’s shot, keeping Flames ahead by a goal in a game they would eventually win 3-2.
“I was like oh come on, that’s 100 percent goal right there,” Anisimov recalled with a frustrated laugh before Wednesday night’s game in Anaheim against the Ducks.
It’s been that kind of season for the Hawks and for Anisimov. Nothing has come easy.
But while the team remains in a long skid that has them near the bottom of the standings, Anisimov has shown signs of emerging from a slow start.
Since coming to the Hawks in the 2015 trade that sent Brandon Saad to the Blue Jackets, Anisimov has been the model of consistency with 20, 22 and 20 goals during his first three seasons.
Reaching the 20-goal plateau for a fourth straight time seemed out of the question after he scored just twice in the Hawks’ first 22 games. But a recent stretch of three goals in five games — it would have been four goals in six games had Smith not denied him — has given Anisimov a shot at scoring 20 goals for the fifth time in his career.
Making the turnaround even more impressive is Anisimov, 30, has been playing with different linemates seemingly every game.
He began the season centering a line with Chris Kunitz and David Kampf, soon moved over to play with Patrick Kane and Nick Schmaltz and over the last couple weeks has been all over the lineup.
“It’s difficult but when you go there and try to play hockey game it doesn’t matter what partners you play,” Anisimov said. “You just play the game. You try to adapt quickly. It’s (just) nice to be on the ice.”
Hawks coach Jeremy Colliton even had Anisimov playing wing for a little bit. He’s moved him back to center but really just wants him on the ice.
“He’s giving us something every night it seems like,” Colliton said. “It doesn’t seem to matter who he’s playing with, he’s giving us some positive shifts and he’s around the net, creating some things that way. It’s nice to see.”
Anisimov, whose wife Ksenia gave birth to their third child, Alexander, last month, still believes the Hawks can turn things around.
“It’s (been) a hard season,” Anisimov said. “Obviously, we’re losing the games but we have all the ingredients here and we just need to figure out how we work together and put some wins together. Just go there and play hockey is what we can do.”
Author: Jimmy Greenfield