By Mark Lazerus
MONTREAL — Jonathan Toews has been frustrated lately by the Blackhawks’ inability to score goals. But he hasn’t been worried.
“We’ve had individuals who’ve dealt with this before,” the Blackhawks captain said before Tuesday’s game in Montreal. “It’s not the end of the world.”
Several hours later, following a cathartic 5-0 victory over the Canadiens, Toews did his best to put a brave face on a new concern — an injured Patrick Sharp, who will be out “a bit” with an apparent right knee injury, according to coach Joel Quenneville. For Kris Versteeg, “a bit” meant a couple of weeks. For Daniel Carcillo, it meant a month. Quenneville said he’d know more in the next day or so.
“It’s never easy,” Toews said. “But we’ve been through it before. … As a team, we have to be prepared to fill that void.”
Sharp was hurt in the third period when he was hit in the corner by Alexei Emelin. Sharp had to be helped off the ice and back to the dressing room.
With Carcillo already sidelined, that leaves the Hawks with just 11 healthy forwards, meaning a call-up is imminent.
“We’ve got some guys that have some skill and want more ice time,” Quenneville said. “So we’ll see how that works out. A lot of important ice time [is available], and someone should look to take advantage of that.”
As for the game, Montreal native Corey Crawford made 28 saves for his first shutout of the season, and the Hawks scored three third-period goals to beat the similarly scuffling Canadiens — a dam-bursting offensive explosion that came after losing five of their last seven, and after scoring two or fewer goals in eight of their last 10 games.
It was just the game they were looking for. All five goals came from close range, and a few of them were of the “ugly” variety the Hawks kept saying they needed. Toews scored his 200th career goal on a deflection of a Duncan Keith shot on the power play. Kris Versteeg scored twice, one a fluky bounce off two Montreal players, and one a swift backhand with Carey Price out of position. Brad Richards redirected a Sharp shot for his goal, and Patrick Kane knocked home a slick Toews feed on the doorstep.
“All of them were pretty much around the net, and [were scored] going to the net,” Kane said. “It’s an important part of trying to score goals in this league, is to get to the front of the net and see what happens when you get there. … Hopefully it’s a sign of things to come.”
Quenneville’s line blender churned out yet another new look as Toews and Kane were reunited on the top line, with Ben Smith as their left wing. Quenneville has taken his tinkering to new extremes lately, with lines changing not just game to game, but sometimes shift to shift.
“We never had a lack of production like we’ve had over a stretch here,” Quenneville countered.
Quenneville reiterated Tuesday that he prefers to keep his two biggest stars separated to create more balance throughout the lines. But Kane, who clearly likes playing with Toews, believed the positives outweighed any negatives. And if Tuesday’s game was any indication, Quenneville might have finally hit on something.
“We haven’t played with each other much the last couple years,” Kane said. “When we do get together, there’s some excitement of being back with one another. I’m looking forward to that. As far as negatives, I don’t think we want to look at it that way. I think we have so many good players on this team and so many players that can put the puck in the net, we should have a balance throughout the lineup no matter who’s playing with who.”