Quenneville turns back the clock with top line of Sharp, Toews, Kane

SHARE Quenneville turns back the clock with top line of Sharp, Toews, Kane

Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Sharp celebrate a Toews goal against the Predators on Feb. 14, 2008. (AP Photo)

With the Blackhawks trailing the Red Wings 3-1 in a second-round playoff series in May 2013 — a history-making season crumbling, a dynamic offense having scored only two goals in a three-game span, a seemingly unflappable captain on tilt — coach Joel Quenneville took the desperate step of putting Patrick Sharp, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane on a line together.

It worked out OK.

The Hawks’ current situation isn’t nearly as dire, of course. It’s only 15 games into the regular season, and the Hawks simply are treading water as a barely .500 team in a weak conference. But they can’t score. So in an effort to generate some offense, Quenneville is going old-school and getting the band back together on the top line.

‘‘That’s the goal, create some magic,’’ Kane said.

Throughout this lengthy goal drought — the Hawks have scored more than three goals only once in their last 13 games — Quenneville and his players have insisted the goals will come. It’s a mantra Toews has repeated often through the years during individual and teamwide slumps: If you see one puck go in, the confidence comes right back and the floodgates can open.

Quenneville thinks a line of Sharp, Toews and Kane is the best way to get that goal.


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‘‘We still feel there’s enough offense in our group here that they can recapture it,’’ Quenneville said. ‘‘If one line can score, maybe the next line gets ignited. We keep moving it around. Technically, defensively, structurally, we’ve been fine. We have to execute better with the puck. Let’s be confident with it and make some plays.’’

Sharp said the makeup of the line is what makes it so effective.

‘‘Three different players,’’ Sharp said. ‘‘You’ve got a playmaker/puckhandler [Kane], a grinder [Toews] and a shooter [Sharp]. We all have speed, and we all kind of think the same way. It’s been awhile since we’ve been a unit . . . but hopefully we can do something.’’

Sharp, Toews and Kane developed into stars together in the late-2000s. They were all young, and coach Denis Savard saw plenty of himself in their creativity and imagination on the ice. So he allowed them to run wild on the top line, fostering their burgeoning playmaking skills and forgiving their frequent defensive lapses.

That trio helped engineer the Hawks’ turnaround from perennial doormat to perennial contender, leading the franchise to its first Stanley Cup title in 49 years in June 2010.

Since then, however, Quenneville has been adamant about keeping Toews and Kane on separate lines, preferring a balanced lineup to a top-heavy one. He wants opposing coaches to have to pick their poison in terms of which line to target with their shutdown line, inevitably freeing up one of his superstars to toy with lesser competition.

But seemingly every season — and often in the postseason — Quenneville breaks his own rule and puts Toews and Kane together. Last season was the longest they had played together since those early years — a 13-game span in October and November. In the first six of those games, Toews had four goals and three assists. In the next seven, he had no goals and two assists. Kane had a better run, with four goals and eight assists before they were split up again.

Toews said everyone on the team feels the burden of trying to get the offense going, not just the star trio. But reunited after so many years, they hope it starts at the top.

‘‘Even if it’s something that’s not long-term, if it’s just for the time being, we want to go out there and just play,’’ Toews said. ‘‘The more chances we get, eventually something has got to go in for us. It’s a fresh start, and hopefully the three of us can generate something.’’

Follow me on Twitter @MarkLazerus.

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com

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