Jackets' Panarin to face former Blackhawks teammates
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After being thoroughly outmatched in an opening-round playoff loss last season, the Chicago Blackhawks underwent another makeover by trading away one of the league's best young stars.
Early returns show they don't seem to miss Artemi Panarin, who fits in just fine with his new team.
The Blackhawks will face the 2015-16 Calder Trophy winner for the first time on Saturday night when Panarin and the Columbus Blue Jackets hit the United Center ice in a game that may feature plenty of offensive fireworks.
As a rookie, Panarin finished ninth in scoring with 77 points (30 goals, seven game-winners, 47 assists) and beat out top two draft picks Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel for the award. The Russian native didn't experience a sophomore slump, finishing second on Chicago with 74 points (31 goals, 43 assists) last season.
In the postseason, however, the Blackhawks were blanked in their first two games at home and managed a total of two goals while being swept by eventual Western Conference champion Nashville.
Speaking a news conference after the season ended, general manager Stan Bowman made it clear that changes were coming.
"This was a tough, tough loss for us all to take," he told the Chicago Tribune. "Standing here April 22 is not the way we expected our season to end. And it's a complete failure when you measure it against the expectations that we have of ourselves.
"We did not come even close to reaching the standard we have set over the years here. And that's unacceptable. Any successes that we did experience this year are completely overshadowed by the abrupt ending to our season. It's not close to good enough for anybody."
Two months later, Bowman stunned fans by shipping Panarin to Columbus for former Blackhawk Brandon Saad in a four-player deal.
"Change is not always easy, but I think it's necessary and I think we're looking forward," Bowman told NHL.com after the trade.
Behind Panarin and Saad, both teams cruised in their respective season openers.
Panarin recorded three assists to power the Blue Jackets to a 5-0 win over the New York Islanders on Friday night.
"His electric style elevates everything around him," Columbus coach John Tortorella told the Blue Jackets' official website.
That came one night after Chicago exploded for four goals in a 2:55 span early in the first period and rolled to a 10-1 thrashing of two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh.
Saad notched his second career hat trick and was one of six players with at least two points, including Ryan Hartman (goal, four assists) and Patrick Kane (goal, three assists).
"I was in the right spot tonight," said Saad, who had 52 goals in three-plus seasons with Chicago before being dealt in 2015 to the Blue Jackets in a seven-player deal that included Artem Anisimov. "It's exciting to get one and be in this building. It's an incredible building to play in. To have that support and get a hat trick on the first night, it definitely feels good."
Chicago's Corey Crawford and Columbus' Sergei Bobrovsky can expect to be tested.
Crawford, who stopped 28 shots by the Penguins, is 6-3-0 with a 2.07 goals-against average in nine career home starts versus the Jackets. He's surrendered a total of six goals in those wins.
Bobrovsky, a two-time Vezina Trophy winner who collected his 20th career shutout Friday, is 2-2-0 with a 2.56 GAA in four career starts at the Madhouse on Madison.
The former Central Division rivals split two games last season with each team winning at home. The Blackhawks are 8-1-0 in their last nine home games versus the Blue Jackets, outscoring them 34-16.
Updated October 7, 2017