Blackhawks: Jonathan Toews and consistent linemates 'makes a world of difference'

Blackhawks: Jonathan Toews and consistent linemates 'makes a world of difference'

For several games now Jonathan Toews’ glances to line mates have been to the same players: Nick Schmaltz to his left and Richard Panik to his right. The same guys for more than a game or two. Not bad, really.

“It makes a world of difference,” Toews said. “We were talking on the bench and we had a couple of goals midway through the game [on Wednesday]. We got that confidence going and we want to build on it and not just sit around and be OK with it.”

When the Blackhawks make changes it’s usually to provide a spark or get more of a four-line rotation. But there’s something to be said for familiarity, and especially giving your captain a chance to have some of that. Schmaltz, Toews and Panik, first put together on Feb. 2 against the Arizona Coyotes, have started to click. After each scored a goal in the Blackhawks’ victory over Minnesota, the three combined for six points in the team’s 5-1 triumph over Edmonton on Saturday night.

Panik said giving the three a chance to figure things out has been beneficial.

“Sometimes it happens overnight when you click with someone and the chemistry’s there. Sometimes you have to work on it, watch videos and talk about plays. That’s what we were trying to do, just talk to each other and figure out where we should be,” Panik said. “So it’s started working the last couple of games so we’ll just keep doing it.”

It’s also about knowing how and when to feed off each other, when to be selfish and when to give up the puck. When Schmaltz went to the top line the concern was him passing to Toews too often instead of taking his own opportunities. Schmaltz has fallen into that trap now and then but he’s also has not been shy about calling for the puck, as he did to Toews for his fourth goal of the season on Wednesday.

“[We talk] a lot, especially on our goal there. He told me he didn’t even see me, he just heard me and kind of threw it to that area,” Schmaltz said. “Communication is huge and the more we talk, you just know if you have pressure, if you have time, stuff like that. We’ll keep talking and keep building the chemistry.”

The top line’s budding chemistry benefits the Blackhawks overall, but especially Toews. In his last five games, Toews has two goals and five assists.

As Panik said, you can’t always assume chemistry will be there right way. The Blackhawks’ latest top line was given a chance to formulate some and they’ve done that. They’ve collected some points and confidence, too.

“I think when you start playing well or start getting a feel for what it’s like to play with a couple of line mates you want to continue to build on that confidence… be predictable and make plays and know where everyone is going to be on the ice,” Toews said. “I think we’ll look to keep working on that. Whether they go in or not I think as long as we’re working, we’ll get our chances.”

Blackhawks send four to Rockford

EDMONTON, Alberta – For most of the Blackhawks, this week will be for rest. For some of the team’s younger players, however, it’s time to go back to work.

The Blackhawks sent defenseman Gustav Forsling and forwards Vinnie Hinostroza, Tanner Kero and Nick Schmaltz to the Rockford IceHogs. The IceHogs face Milwaukee today and Cleveland on Wednesday and Saturday.

Additionally, the Blackhawks activated defenseman Michal Rozsival from injured reserve.

Tanner Kero latest to try and fill Artem Anisimov's skates

Tanner Kero latest to try and fill Artem Anisimov's skates

PITTSBURGH – Tanner Kero's been thrown into a lot of different situations in his time with the Blackhawks, be it third- or fourth-line center or penalty kill.

But with Artem Anisimov out, the second-line center spot has become new top-line, left-wing spot: The Blackhawks will keep trying guys out until they find one that works. Kero's the latest to get that opportunity, and since it worked well on Monday, he'll be there again on Wednesday.

Kero will center Artemi Panarin and Patrick Kane again when the Blackhawks host the Pittsburgh Penguins. The line had a good start to Monday's game against the Lightning in Tampa, scoring the team's first two goals — Kero assisted on Panarin's opener.

Coach Joel Quenneville liked Kero's first go-around there.

"Defensively he's in a good spot — he's usually in a reliable spot in his own end — he made a couple of nice plays offensively and didn't change his game too much," Quenneville said. "It's not easy playing with guys at that next level. It's certainly a great challenge and a great opportunity, so I thought he did a great job, took advantage of it. We'll see how he does going forward but we'll keep him in there for [Wednesday's] game and that gives us some more options."

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Learning on the fly can be part of a rookie season, especially when injuries arise. Jonathan Toews said Kero's handled everything well this season.

"Come to think of it, it's one of those little things that maybe goes over my head but he's definitely one of those versatile players who's as consistent as ever," Toews said. "He has, for his age, an incredible level of maturity and he carries that with him wherever he goes. You're seeing offensive improvement, too. He was making some good plays with Bread Man and Kaner. He's showing he can do it all and I think his work ethic and attitude's a source of that success."

Earlier this season Kero was with guys like Ryan Hartman and Vinnie Hinostroza. They were all familiar with each other from their Rockford days, and that showed. Playing with two guys you don't know so well? It's a bit of a challenge, and one the three talk out. But ultimately, Kero said you have to rely on your instincts. 

"You go over things before the game and on the bench, get a feel for what you might want to do. But then you just have to play hockey," Kero said. "You have to trust your game, make plays. You know they're going to make plays with the puck so you try to use your speed and get open and try to go to the net, create space for them and a little traffic in front and try to capitalize on opportunities."

Anisimov will be out another 1-2 weeks. Asked if Anisimov has started skating back in Chicago yet, Quenneville said, "I don't think so but I'm not positive. But he's progressing." Filling Anisimov's skates isn't easy, as evidenced by the Blackhawks' search for his temporary replacement. Kero is the third guy to get that shot, and he took advantage of his first showing.

"Obviously it's a great opportunity to play with two great players," Kero said. "You just try to do everything you can and do the little things right."

Briefly

- Marian Hossa and Duncan Keith didn't practice on Tuesday but both are expected to play against the Penguins.

- Corey Crawford gets the start against Pittsburgh.

- Hartman, scratched after a rough game against the Florida Panthers, is probably back in against the Penguins.

Blackhawks sign prospect Matheson Iacopelli to entry-level contract

Blackhawks sign prospect Matheson Iacopelli to entry-level contract

The Blackhawks officially agreed to terms with prospect Matheson Iacopelli on a two-year entry-level contract that begins next season and runs through the 2018-19 campaign.

He will report to the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League.

The 22-year-old forward recently completed his sophomore season at Western Michigan, where he scored a team-high 20 goals and added 16 assists in 40 games. It was a huge bounce-back year after recording only one goal and six assists in 27 games during his freshman season.

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A third-round pick (No. 83 overall) by the Blackhawks in 2014, Iacopelli possesses a dangerous shot and is a big-bodied winger at 6-foot-3, 206 pounds. His two-way game still needs fine-tuning, something he will certainly work on in Rockford, but he gives the IceHogs another much-needed scorer.

Iacopelli is the fourth Blackhawks prospect to sign this season out of college, joining John Hayden, Anthony Louis and Luc Snuggerud.