Fourth line making the most of its limited playing time

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Jordin Tootoo hits Maple Leafs defenseman Jake Gardiner during the third period of Saturday’s game at the United Center. (AP Photo)

NEWARK, N.J. —Jordin Tootoo had two shifts in less than a minute early in the second period of Monday night’s game against the Calgary Flames. He spent the next 19 minutes of game time on the bench, until Joel Quenneville finally called his number early in the third period.

For some players, it can be difficult to stay loose, warm and ready for such extended periods of time. But Tootoo has spent much of his career on the roster fringe, and knows how to be ready at any moment.

“Ultimately, it’s mind over matter,” he said before Friday’s game in New Jersey, where he spent the past two seasons. “We’re professionals, and you’ve got to make sure you’re ready for whatever’s put in front of you. For me, it might be a little easier to adjust, but it’s about being a pro. You’ve got to prepare yourself daily. It’s a grind, and I always tell myself it’s mind over matter.”

The Hawks’ most glaring hole in the early going this season — besides the historically bad penalty-kill, of course — has been the lack of a four-line rotation. When the Hawks are at their best, the fourth line is playing anywhere from eight to 12 minutes a night. But Tootoo has played less than six minutes in four of the Hawks’ first seven games, as the Hawks have found themselves down and chasing a lead in the third period too often.

But Tootoo, Marcus Kruger and Dennis Rasmussen have been the Hawks’ most effective line in terms of puck possession. It’s a smaller sample size than the guys playing 20 minutes a night, but only Artemi Panarin and Jonathan Toews have better possession numbers among Hawks forwards than those three. On Friday night, Quenneville moved Kruger up to the third line and had Nick Schmaltz centering Rasmussen and Tootoo.

“They’ve been fine,” Joel Quenneville said of Rasmussen and Tootoo. “Tootsie’s been very good and he gives us energy, plays responsibly [and has] good enthusiasm on the bench and on the ice. [Rasmussen] has been very effective since he’s been in the lineup, as well.”

Does that mean they’ll start seeing more playing time? Well, that depends on if the Hawks are protecting a lead or chasing one. In the meantime, Tootoo will be ready to go.

“You’re constantly in the game and you’ve got to make sure that you’re mentally and physically ready,” Tootoo said. “When you sit for a long period of time, it could be mentally draining. I can’t speak for other guys, but for me, I just know my role and adjust to it.”

Building trust

Quenneville hasn’t had much choice but to play five or six rookies a night, but when asked Friday which of his young players has earned his trust, it was pretty clear that defenseman Gustav Forsling and forward Tyler Motte are at the head of the class.

“The Forsling kid on defense has been a real nice addition to our team,” Quenneville said. “Gives us a real nice presence back there, has a real good feel and patience, good play selection and play recognition, as well. We think his upside is going to be really good. Up front, it kind of changes. I think Motte probably has gotten the most opportunity playing up there with some top guys and killing penalties for us.”

Forsling missed Friday’s game with an upper-body injury, but Quenneville was hopeful he could play Sunday against the Los Angeles Kings. Vinnie Hinostroza was a healthy scratch for the fourth straight game.

Help on the way

With Andrew Desjardins expected to start skating any day now, the Hawks’ beleaguered penalty-kill could be getting a lift. Desjardins played more shorthanded minutes than any other Hawks forward last season. In his absence, Motte and Rasmussen have been getting some PK time.

“We’ll keep trying things until we get it right,” Quenneville said. “He’s done it in the past and he’s had some good stretches and some ordinary stretches. But he’s capable of being a killer. One more guy that definitely will be considered.”

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com

Twitter: @marklazerus

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