Struggling Blackhawks put Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews on first line together: ‘Let’s try it’

Kane and Toews historically haven’t enjoyed great results together, but with the Hawks mired in a deep drought — with two wins in their last 15 games — coach Luke Richardson decided to change things up.

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Jonathan Toews (left) and Patrick Kane together.

Jonathan Toews (left) and Patrick Kane will play together on the Blackhawks’ first line Wednesday.

David Banks/AP

Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews’ names are mentioned in the same sentences as often as salt and pepper, but for whatever reason they’ve never had the greatest results actually playing together.

Even in the preseason this year, when new Blackhawks coach Luke Richardson tried uniting the two cornerstone forwards, their line conceded three goals in less than 10 minutes of five-on-five ice time together before he promptly split them apart again.

But with the Hawks mired in as deep and dry a slump as they currently are — having won just twice in their last 15 games, having been outscored 61-32 over that span — it’s probably worth changing something for the sake of changing something. Things can’t possibly get much worse, after all, if the change backfires.

So ahead of practice Tuesday, Richardson pulled a new idea out of the idea jar, and that was to try Kane and Toews together again.

“It’s been done before, but I haven’t done it,” Richardson said, presumably referring to the regular season only. “So let’s try it. I think that makes the most sense.”

Toews now centers the first line with Kane on his right and Andreas Athanasiou on his left. Max Domi has slid down to the second-line center role between Taylor Raddysh and Philipp Kurashev.

“I mentioned it to [Kane and] all the guys this morning, and they’re all good with it,” Richardson said. “They realize there has to be some shuffling and changes just to change things up. Let’s rock the boat and get things going in the right direction.”

Added Kane: “We’ve played together before, so I know his tendencies, of course. And what he likes to do out there, and where he’s good on the ice. Even with Max, we’ve been snakebitten a little bit. We’ve had some looks, we’ve had some chances, it just hasn’t [gone] in for us, so hopefully we can get some bounces and get back on track.”

Richardson has been remarkably patient with combinations this season — much more than predecessors Jeremy Colliton and Derek King ever were. Other than by necessity because of injuries, the Hawks’ attacking lines have barely changed since training camp, and the old first line of Kane, Domi and Athanasiou literally hadn’t changed since camp.

Furthermore, as Kane mentioned, that line actually looked dangerous in Sunday’s 7-2 loss to the Jets. The Hawks surprisingly finished with a 22-21 edge in scoring chances at five-on-five, per Natural Stat Trick, and the first line accounted for an 11-2 advantage, not even including Athanasiou’s overturned first-period goal.

But only so much patience can be justified given the team’s dire lack of success in November. And in contrast to Sunday, the first line had admittedly been out-chanced by a massive 62-27 margin over its previous nine games.

So when the Hawks host the Oilers on Wednesday, that trio will sport a new look with the captain in the middle.

Coincidentally, that’s the exact same matchup that began this losing spiral for the Hawks back on Oct. 27. And in another coincidence, the Oilers also recently united their two star forwards — Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl — on a rare line together, and they’ve won consecutive games since doing so.

The Hawks engaged in battle drills at game-speed intensity during practice Tuesday and will attempt to carry that energy into Wednesday.

“The biggest thing is competing and making sure that we’re ready to play right when the puck drops,” Kane said. “We’ve had games in here that we could’ve had points or could’ve won those games, but it just hasn’t come through for us. We’ve just got to stay with it and compete a little bit better.”

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