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Jeremy Colliton wise to reserve Jonathan Toews-Patrick Kane nuclear line for desperate times

The Hawks have out-scored opponents 19-10 this season when both Kane and Toews are on the ice, but there are plenty of reasons against making the two superstars a permanent duo.

Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane have rarely played together at 5-on-5 this year.
AP Photos

DETROIT — Knowing whether the Blackhawks are winning or losing doesn’t require a scoreboard whenever Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane appear together in five-on-five play.

In that case, they’re definitely losing.

Coach Jeremy Colliton typically only has used the superstar forwards together in desperate times. True to form, the Toews-Kane ‘‘nuclear line’’ made its first extended appearance in a while in the Hawks’ sloppy 2-1 loss Friday against the woeful Red Wings.

Toews and Kane spent the latter part of the second period and most of the third period together.

Their presence was notable only because Colliton has deployed them together so rarely this season.

At five-on-five, Kane and Toews have spent only 261 minutes together — under four minutes per game. Kane has been one of Toews’ two most common wingers in only seven games, and five of those were in the season’s first month. Dominik Kubalik, by comparison, has been one of Toews’ two most common wingers for 39 consecutive games.

It’s certainly exciting to dream about the dominance of that duo, and Toews and Kane do produce a lot of offense — which is why Colliton sometimes turns to them when trailing. With them both on the ice, the Hawks have outscored opponents 19-10 and generated an average of 32.0 scoring chances per 60 minutes, more than they do when just Toews or just Kane (or neither, for that matter) is playing.

The negative effect of their union on the rest of the Hawks’ scoring depth and line trios, however, is significant enough to justify starting — and usually keeping — them apart.

Against the Wings, once Kane moved into the first line, the Hawks rotated Kubalik and Brandon Saad in and out of the other wing slot. Kubalik also took a few shifts with Dylan Strome and Ryan Carpenter; Saad took a few shifts with Strome and Alex Nylander.

In other words, Kane’s promotion scrambled the rest of the depth chart into chaos. If done full-time, Colliton would need to create more stable second and third trios, and none of the options is promising.

The Hawks have too many players who work best as complementary pieces next to a star — Kubalik, Drake Caggiula, even Saad to some extent — and not many who can create their own chances.

With Kirby Dach still developing, Strome struggling defensively and Carpenter unable to contribute much offensively, the Hawks also don’t have the center depth beneath Toews to justify using Kane — the one player guaranteed to make any of those centers look good — on Toews’ line.

Plus, even the Toews-Kane duo has its weaknesses, namely in its own end. The Hawks allow 33.1 opponent scoring chances per 60 minutes when both players are on the ice, more than when either one plays without the other — essentially the same effect as stated before but reversed.

That makes the decision to preserve that stacked first line for last-gasp periods, when the Hawks need a goal at all costs, seem wise.

Notes: Defenseman Adam Boqvist suffered his right wrist injury, which ruled him out of the game against the Red Wings at the last minute, midway through Thursday’s game against the Oilers, Jeremy Colliton said. The Hawks haven’t provided return timetables for Boqvist or defenseman Lucas Carlsson (concussion).

... Rockford signed Hawks goalie prospect Ivan Nalimov, 25, to a professional tryout contract Saturday, giving the longtime Russian league star — whose North American rights have been owned by the Hawks since the 2014 draft — an opportunity to prove himself worthy of a 2020-21 contract.