Patrick Kane hopes he can help ignite Jonathan Toews’ offense

SHARE Patrick Kane hopes he can help ignite Jonathan Toews’ offense

Jonathan Toews is returning to the Hawks lineup. (AP Photo)

Jonathan Toews has no goals and two assists through the first seven games of the season.

The Blackhawks’ response? A collective shrug.

“I don’t think you’re ever worried about him,” Patrick Kane said. “He’s going to produce, he’s going to be effective on the ice. I’m sure he wants to produce more, but I don’t think that’s anything we’re really worried about yet.”

In fact, there’s nothing out of the ordinary about Toews’ start. For a guy who scored his first NHL goal in his first NHL game, slow starts have been pretty common. Last year, he had no goals through the first seven games. In 2014-15, he had one goal through seven games. In 2010-11, he had one goal through nine games. In 2009-10, he had no goals through seven games. And in 2008-09, he had no goals through 12 games.

But the Hawks’ captain has never scored fewer than 23 goals, and has had 28 goals in each of his past three seasons. Toews usually finds his offensive groove in late October or early November, and never looks back. In the meantime, he plays such a sound all-around game that he’s still a huge contributor. In fact, only Duncan Keith and Artemi Panarin have better possession numbers so far than Toews. When he’s been on the ice, the Hawks have had a dominating 57 percent of the shot attempts.

“His production isn’t where you look at his play,” Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “We still always like the way he plays. He’s so useful in so many different ways.”

That said, it wouldn’t hurt the sputtering Hawks’ cause if Toews — who had three goals and two assists in six World Cup games in September — started creating goals, not just chances. With that in mind, Quenneville is going to his so-called nuclear option just seven games into the season — putting Kane and Toews together on the top line for Friday’s road game against the New Jersey Devils, with Richard Panik on the left wing.

After playing together early in their career, Kane and Toews usually have been kept apart as Quenneville searches for balance in the lineup. But there’s never any feeling-out process between the two superstars, and they’re usually good for some instant offense. In fact, Kane said Toews is “probably the easiest player to play with.”

“He plays a two-way game, so pure, so good on faceoffs, so good defensively, very rarely in his own end, so good behind the net, at puck-protecting, and coming up with loose pucks on battles,” Kane said. “Sometimes when you’re playing with him, and you haven’t played with him for a little bit, you’ve got to just let him be and not support him too much. Because he’s so good in those battles and he can come up with pucks.”

The twist now is that by assembling this super-line, Quenneville is breaking up another one. The trio of Artemi Panarin, Artem Anisimov and Kane has carried the Hawks since the beginning of last season. Now Marian Hossa will skate in Kane’s usual spot.

Of course, this is Quenneville. Sure, it’s possible that the latest lineup clicks and sticks for the rest of the season. But it’s more likely that it lasts a couple of games. Or maybe even a couple of shifts.

“It’s not like we’re too far away from going back to [the Panarin-Anisimov-Kane line] at any time,” Quenneville said. “It’s always close and available. But maybe we get more balance and a little more scoring across the board [this way].”

Kane has played the best hockey of his career with the Russian duo, and that’s likely his permanent spot in the long term. But, hey, he’s always happy to take a spin with Toews.

“That’s the exciting thing going forward into [Friday] is try to get him on the board, try to play a good team game, have a good game as a line,” Kane said. “I’m sure we’ll talk to each other, try to pump each other up, and get ready for a big game, and try to help the team get two points.”

NOTES: Gustav Forsling (upper body) is doing better, but won’t play Friday. Andrew Desjardins, who’s been out all season with a lower-body injury suffered in the preseason finale at St. Louis, could start skating “in the next day or so.”


Twitter: @marklazerus

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