WASHINGTON — The first time Vinnie Hinostroza skated on United Center ice in a Blackhawks uniform and looked to his right and saw Jonathan Toews, he was basically slack-jawed. He saw Toews as a guy he grew up rooting for, a future Hall of Famer, an icon.
Now, in his third stint as Toews’ left wing, Hinostroza just sees a teammate. A linemate. One of the guys.
“When I was breaking in, it was still kind of weird being in this locker room and playing with guys I grew up watching,” Hinostroza said. “But now, they’re just teammates and friends. It’s easier now.”
That comfort level has translated to the ice, where Hinostroza is making a push to be the long-awaited answer in that top-line left-wing slot. Friday night’s game, a 6-0 loss to the Capitals, was the fourth straight with Hinostroza alongside Toews and Marian Hossa, and while the line has only produced one goal, it’s showing promise. And with Ryan Hartman carving out a useful and productive niche for himself on the third line with Tanner Kero and Richard Panik, Hinostroza could get an extended look on the top line.
The two players who filled the role well in the past were Brandon Saad and Patrick Sharp. And while Hinostroza isn’t built like either of them, he has the same kind of game-changing speed that complements the smart, two-way game of Toews and Hossa.
“The way Hoss and I play, it’s always been that heavy game, playing down low with the puck and playing good defensively,” Toews said. “It’s nice to have a guy like Vinnie that can finish plays off, or can skate the way he does and just create in open ice, too. I think he complements our line quite a bit.”
Hinostroza got a quick look on the top line in the first week of the season, then again during the circus trip in November. But he’s more confident now and far more comfortable. And he hopes this time he gets to stay.
“Earlier in the year, you just want to play for them and get them the puck, and you can get away from your game a little bit,” Hinostroza said. “You do whatever you can to keep them happy. But now, you know the better you play, the better they’re going to be, and the happier they’re going to be.”
Michal Rozsival returned to the lineup. He was a healthy scratch for the last six games and 12 of the last 13. Michal Kempny sat out. The Hawks continue to have just 21 players on the roster, which allows them to bank cap space for the Feb. 28 trade deadline.
Alex Ovechkin scored his 1,000th career point earlier this week. And of his 546 career goals, a whole mess of them came on one-timers from the left circle — the same spot Artemi Panarin is turning into his office.
Coach Joel Quenneville lamented that Ovechkin always seems to find a way to get there and get open on the power play. Panarin has the same knack, though.
“With our team, [Patrick Kane] gets it [on the other side] and he absorbs a lot of attention, and whether you get that shot or the pass through to [Panarin], they have to respect [Kane] a little bit more,” Quenneville said. “You have to sometimes pick your poison, and I think when those guys are over there, those are the options you have to consider when you’re on the penalty kill.”
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