By Mark Lazerus
MONTREAL — The standard quip every time a player gets moved to Patrick Kane’s line is that the goal is simple: Give Kane the puck and let him do his thing.
Kane gave Ben Smith some different advice, though.
“Stick to my game and try not to get him the puck all the time,” Smith said. “Obviously, you want him with the puck, but when you start forcing things, it can lead to turnovers. And then you don’t have the puck at all.”
Joel Quenneville’s line blender churned out yet another new look Tuesday morning for the goal-starved Blackhawks. When they face the Canadiens at Centre Bell, Jonathan Toews and Kane will be reunited on the top line, with 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.
The Hawks have been shut out in their last two home games, and have scored two or fewer goals in eight of their last 10 games despite leading the NHL in shots on goal per game. They’ve lost three of four and five of seven, so Quenneville went to his nuclear option.
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.
“He’s an easy player to play with,” Kane said. “He gets pucks back, he gets it in your hands, and he’s always around the net to pick up a lot of goals there, too. We haven’t played with each other much the last couple years. When we do get together, there’s some excitement of being back with one another. I’m looking forward to that tonight. 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.”
Toews pointed out that the last time the two played together, in a 3-2 loss to St. Louis, they each took a minus-2 and haven’t played together since. But he thinks the two can help break the Hawks out of their scoring slump.
“I think we feel like there’s a tremendous upside as far as creating offense together,” Toews said. “We just know we’ve got to be responsible and be smart in our own zone. As long as the two of us work hard, regardless of who we’re with, we know how to find each other, we know what the other guy does well, and how to complement each other. Hopefully tonight we can go out there and make something happen, and try to get this thing rolling in the right direction for our team.”
That said, Toews cautioned that it’s way too early to panic.
“Whether the team [has gone] through it or not, we’ve had individuals who’ve dealt with this before — it’s not the end of the world,” he said. “We want to find ways to win games. If it’s ugly, if it’s a 1-0 game but we win tonight, we’ll take that and we’ll slowly get back towards a type of game where the offense comes a little bit more naturally. Even when things are clicking, you’re going to find yourself in some tight, tight games — 2-1, 3-2 games. That’s going to be the story all year. We’re not looking to go out there and score eight goals tonight. If that happens, it’s great, and no one’s going to complain about that. But we’ll keep working for it, and we know that we’ll rely on our experience to get through it.”