Blackhawks shuffle lines, splitting Kane and Toews and benching Nylander
Playing the two star forwards together on the top line failed miserably in the Hawks’ 0-2 start.
The lines coach Jeremy Colliton unleashed at Blackhawks practice Friday — the morning after the team dropped to 0-2 on the season — looked nothing like the trios he staunchly had maintained through training camp.
Dylan Strome centering Patrick Kane and Andrew Shaw.
Jonathan Toews centering Alex DeBrincat and Drake Caggiula.
Brendan Perlini, a healthy scratch in the first two games, and Alex Nylander, a first-liner until Thursday, alternating reps on the fourth line alongside Ryan Carpenter and Zack Smith.
The lines were about as fluid as one of the Hawks’ pre-practice smoothies, and Colliton admitted he intentionally had taken the hodgepodge approach. All that mattered was that they were different than the ones that were out-chanced 57-35 by the Flyers and Sharks in the first two games.
‘‘We experimented a little bit,’’ Colliton said. ‘‘We’ve got to play better, that’s the bottom line.’’
There’s an aura of pronounced anxiety surrounding the Hawks, even though the season is only two games old.
For all the talk about not reading too much into 120 minutes of hockey, the pressure put on the Hawks by their suffocating organizational dynamic — increasingly old, formerly great and recently subpar — already is penetrating the United Center and Fifth Third Arena.
Much of the immediate hand-wringing stems from the fact that Kane and Toews have been terrible so far from a possession standpoint. When the star forwards have been on the ice together, the Hawks have had only eight scoring chances (three of them high-danger) and have conceded a whopping 30 (14 of them high-danger).
Toews has zero points and only four shots on goal. And although Kane had three points in the season opener in Prague and another pretty assist on Strome’s goal Thursday, he characteristically has struggled defensively.
Thus, the impetus for the shakeup.
The new top line might be quite interesting. It collectively accounted for three-fourths of the Hawks’ scoring in the home opener, between Shaw’s roaring two-goal return and the beautiful give-and-go between Kane and Strome. There’s plenty of potential for success there.
‘‘We’ve just got to get more pucks to the net,’’ Strome said after the game. ‘‘You see how good [the Sharks] are at getting pucks through and getting sticks on pucks, and I think they got three or four goals like that. We’ve got to do a better job of getting in the slot and getting in front of their goalie and tipping them.’’
The new second line is substantially more peculiar. Colliton probably hopes the diverse strengths of its three members — Toews’ two-way puck-moving ability, DeBrincat’s playmaking and sniping and Caggiula’s blue-collar forechecking — will mesh smoothly.
‘‘My whole career I’ve pretty much started every training camp on the fourth line, and throughout the years I’ve always moved up to some different lines and been able to play with some pretty good players,’’ Caggiula said.
But considering that specific trio played less than one minute together all of last season, there’s not much data by which to judge them.
Then again, having line combinations with no pre-existing track record — good or bad — is basically the whole idea.
Any other day, Nylander’s fall from favor — foreshadowed by an in-game demotion Thursday to the third line — would be the defining takeaway. Yet this shakeup was so big that it’s hard to identify any clear theme, other than the all-encompassing need for something different.
‘‘I just think our game was too loose, so that’s the message,’’ Colliton said. ‘‘It’s not so much about the combos; it’s how we play shift to shift.’’