VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Remember when the Blackhawks couldn’t score? When Patrick Kane was slumping and Marian Hossa was snakebitten and every goaltender they ran into turned into a future Hall of Famer?
It was only a week or two ago. But it’s starting to seem like a distant memory.
After averaging just 2.4 goals through the first 17 games of the season, the Hawks enter Sunday night’s game in Vancouver with 17 in their last three. They put up six on the Dallas Stars at home, then started the circus trip with a 4-3 win in Calgary and a 7-1 pasting of Edmonton. Kane entered the Canucks game with four goals and four assists in his last four games. Hossa snapped a nine-game goal drought against the Oilers and has a goal and nine assists in his previous nine games.
And the Hawks, who were uncharacteristically in the bottom third of the league rankings in goals per game all season, suddenly are tied for seventh at a healthy 2.95. And they’ve done it without last year’s leading scorer Patrick Sharp, and without 20-goal-scorer Andrew Shaw.
The way they see it, it was only a matter of time.
“As long as I feel good out there, good things will happen,” Hossa said. “I don’t try to squeeze the stick too hard, and I just try to relax and let good things happen.”
Some of the blame for the early offensive woes fell on coach Joel Quenneville, who was jumbling his lines nearly every game — sometimes every period — in a desperate attempt to find a spark. It might have had the opposite effect, as players couldn’t develop any cohesiveness or chemistry. But — and stop us if you’ve heard this one before — Quenneville’s latest lineup, which was assembled before the Dallas game, might finally be the right one.
Entering Sunday’s game, the top line of Brandon Saad, Jonathan Toews and Hossa — the same line that led the Hawks to the Presidents’ Trophy in the 2013 regular season — has produced four even-strength goals in the three games it’s been together. The second line of Kris Versteeg, Brad Richards and Kane has produced six. Massive numbers.
Quenneville said it all “flows” from those two lines.
“Our four-line rotation’s been better, the combination with [Toews] has been good and Richards’ line has been real solid, as well,” he said. “I think that kind of sets the tone for our team. And the last three games, particularly, has been our best stretch all year.”
Kane has been particularly enthusiastic about his new line, even though it meant separating him from Toews, an experiment that lasted five games but didn’t yield much.
“I’m playing with two very skilled players right now with Steeger and Richie,” Kane said. “They’re finding me in good areas, in good spots. It seems like we’ve had a [few] big games in a row. There’s some excitement there playing with each other, and hopefully we can continue that and just enjoy this run.”
It’s certainly more enjoyable than the alternative. You could see that in Hossa’s face after he finally scored in Edmonton, when he looked up and raised his palms to the sky in mock exultation and relief. As Hossa kept saying as his shooting percentage shrank to the low single digits — an unsustainably low level for such a high-end player — they were bound to start going in eventually.
“Certain guys, when you’re expecting them to score and they’re not at that level where they’re [accustomed to], eventually they’re going to find it,” Quenneville said. “And then usually they take off from there.”