Patrick Kane has never hid the fact that he likes playing with Jonathan Toews. The two basically grew up in the NHL together, and have an easy and natural chemistry that never seems to fade, no matter if it’s minutes, weeks, months, or years in between shifts together.
“Any time you’re playing with that caliber of a player, it’s going to be fun,” Kane said.
Of course, Joel Quenneville prefers keeping them apart, because it forces opponents — many of which only have one shutdown line — to pick their poison. Target Toews’ line, and Kane will beat you. Target Kane’s line, and Toews will beat you. It doesn’t hurt to have a right wing of Marian Hossa’s caliber to slot on that top line ahead of Kane, either.
“I still think we’re better when they’re apart,” Quenneville said. “Deeper and more dangerous.”
But Quenneville invariably goes to his nuclear option when things get desperate. Chasing a goal or two in the third period? Put Toews and Kane together. Trailing in a postseason series and need a spark? Put Toews and Kane together. Lose a few games in a row during the stretch run? Put Toews and Kane together.
That’s where the Hawks are right now, having lost four straight, with just six goals in those four games. Desperate times, indeed.
“When nothing seems to be working and we’re just fighting the puck and nothing seems to land on our sticks and they’re going right through us,” Toews said, “that’s the moment you expect [Quenneville] is going to try something different to try to wake us up.”
That just about sums up the last handful of games for the Hawks, whose poor puck luck has compounded their occasionally poor play. Andrew Desjardins flipped a backhand off the crossbar on Wednesday night. Duncan Keith’s stick broke on a one-timer. Artemi Panarin was robbed on a pair of one-timers, and Kane was denied on the doorstep in the frantic final five minutes.
But the new-look top line of Toews and Kane with left wing Tomas Fleischmann looked very good, dominating the puck and creating several scoring chances, including a Toews goal.
“It’s easier,” Kane said afterward of playing with Toews. “It’s a little different. Sometimes, all three of us were in areas at the same time — first game together, there’s not much chemistry before this. But we had some chances, had some good looks, and obviously got on the board there. It would have been nice to cash in a few more.”
Since the start of the 2013 season, when Toews and Kane are on the ice together (a relatively small sample size of about 593 total minutes), they average 3.95 goals per 60 minutes, according to puckalytics.com. When they’re apart, they average 2.84 and 2.85 goals per 60 minutes, respectively. However, they allow an average of 3.04 goals per 60 minutes when together. When apart, Toews allows 1.73, while Kane allows 2.22.
In other words, Toews plus Kane equals instant offense, but Quenneville’s right — the Hawks are better off when they’re apart. It’s a short-term fix, one the Hawks definitely need right now, but one that’s best used in small doses.
“It’s a great option to have, when we need to get something going,” Toews said. “It’s something [Quenneville] always keeps in his back pocket.”