It didn’t take Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp long to recapture the magic.
Matched up against the top line of the high-scoring New York Islanders on Tuesday night, the Blackhawks’ top trio accounted for all four goals in a thoroughly impressive 4-1 victory at the United Center. Toews had two goals and two assists, Hossa had two goals, and Sharp had two assists to provide Corey Crawford (38 saves) with all the offense he’d need, and then some.
“We’ve been together here six years in one dressing room, and we’ve had lots of games together,” Hossa said. “There is a chemistry there, even when it’s [been] a while [since] they put us together.”
The Hawks, meanwhile, improved to 7-1-1 dating back to the game in which Patrick Kane was injured. They kept pace with the St. Louis Blues, who moved into sole possession of first place, staying five points back with a game in hand. And they moved within four points of second-place Nashville, with three games in hand.
There was only one blemish on the Hawks’ game on Tuesday, but it was a big one. Andrew Shaw was assessed a five-minute major and a game misconduct for driving his head into Brock Nelson’s while battling along the boards. The ensuing penalty kill — on which the Hawks allowed just one shot —played a big role in the game, but the head-butting penalty could play a role in future ones. A source said the hit was being scrutinized by the NHL’s department of player safety, and Shaw could be looking at a suspension.
“Not a smart penalty,” growled Hawks coach Joel Quenneville, who said that “killing a five-minute major, to me, is enough [discipline].”
The Sharp-Toews-Hossa unit was arguably the top line in hockey last season, but has spent nearly the entire season apart. Reunited following Sharp’s two-goal game in San Jose (and with Kris Versteeg faltering in that left wing spot), the chemistry was almost instant.
From their first shift, they were buzzing. Toews bounced two backhanders off Neuvirth and in — the first one from a ridiculous angle. Toews then turned Thomas Hickey inside-out to set up a Hossa one-timer in the second to make it 3-0. It was Hossa’s 20th goal, marking the 14th time in his career he’s reached that milestone. Hossa added his 21st when Sharp’s centering pass banked in off his skate.
“The lucky ones seemed to go in tonight,” Toews said. “I think Hoss and I probably fed off [Sharp’s] momentum coming out of the last game.”
All four goals came with Islanders captain John Tavares, the NHL’s leading scorer, on the ice. Through one period, Sharp, Toews and Hossa combined for eight shot attempts, seven of them on goal. The Tavares line had just one shot attempt, on goal. Tavares finished a ghastly minus-4.
“We had time with the puck tonight,” Toews said. “It was nice to play that way and have the puck and just not be too worried about losing it and making mistakes. We knew we were checking well and were going to get it right back.”
Nikolay Kulemin’s goal broke up Crawford’s shutout bid, but it was the Islanders’ fourth straight loss, a free fall that has dropped them out of first place in the Metropolitan Division. All four losses have come since defenseman Nick Leddy was injured. The Hawks, meanwhile, keep on rolling without Kane.
“There’s not much you can do about what other teams are doing in the standings, you’ve just got to get every point that you can,” Toews said. “We’ve played some solid, consistent hockey in the last handful of games, and we’re seeing some success offensively, so that’s adding up for us and hopefully we can keep climbing.”