For a brief moment on Saturday night, it appeared that the clouds had parted, the sun was shining, a choir was singing, and Marian Hossa had finally scored the 500th goal of his NHL career.
“I wasn’t sure,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “[Richard Panik] had the bigger celebration.”
Indeed, Hossa had merely set up the second of Panik’s three goals on Sunday with a short, cross-crease feed through traffic. Hossa, in fact, has an assist in all three of the Hawks’ games so far. Despite moving from the top line to the third line to the fourth line in a matter of four days, Hossa has remained a strong presence at both ends of the ice. But he’s still looking to cash in on a goal. So is his off-and-on linemate, Jonathan Toews.
And the sooner, the better.
Last season, slow starts led to Hossa having a career-low 13 goals and Toews having the lowest points-per-game total (58 points in 80 games) of his career. Toews didn’t score a goal in his first seven games last season, and Hossa had just one in his first 14 games. So the two superstars —with a gaudy 750 goals between them —are eager to find some early momentum.
“It’ll be huge for us,” Toews said. “We know those results are going to come. Last year, it was maybe a rougher start, and then we were kind of forcing as the season went along. It got maybe even more mentally tiring as that burden got bigger and bigger. [So] the start’s important.”
For Hossa, who has been getting asked about his 500th goal since last training camp, when it seemed inevitable he’d get it during the 2015-16 season, one simple tally would do a world of good.
“It’s always easier when you have a good start,” he said. “Things are going your way, you’re more confident, things are easier, and you’re having more fun. [When you’re] really trying to work hard and things are not going your way, you have to chase things.”
Hossa has been somewhat snake-bitten in his quest for 500. His shooting percentage has dropped dramatically from 12.4 in 2013-14 to just 6.8 last season. And after goals in back-to-back games in early February put him at 497 for his career, ramping up the 500th hype, Hossa was injured on a hip check by Anaheim’s Hampus Lindholm and missed a month.
He scored No. 499 on March 29, but then was injured again against Boston on April 3, leaving him stuck one goal shy of the milestone as he sat out the last three games of the regular season. He did close out strong, scoring in each of the last three playoff games against St. Louis.
“I never thought I could be one day close to this number,” the 37-year-old Hossa said. “It’s great. I know I’m pretty close to 500, so that would be nice to get it over with sooner than later.”
It’s been a curious start for the Hawks, offensively. Through three games, their only goal-scorers are Richard Panik (four), Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Marcus Kruger, Ryan Hartman and Nick Schmaltz. None from Toews, none from Hossa, none from Patrick Kane, none from Artemi Panarin, and none from Artem Anisimov, who has struggled mightily in the early going.
The concern entering the season was whether the Hawks would be able to muster any depth scoring. So the upside-down start could be construed as a positive —assuming the big guns start scoring soon.
“It just shows the depth of this team,” Schmaltz said. “I mean, obviously, Kane and Panarin and those guys, they’re going to score. You give them time, they’re going to make plays. They’re some of the best players in the league, so as much as we can do to contribute and get some secondary scoring, that will help this team be successful.”
Added goaltender Scott Darling: “ That’s kind of our motto — we know we can score. We’ve just got to keep them out of our net.”