Blackhawks’ Andrew Shaw gets the message with his demotion to fourth line

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MONTREAL — The Blackhawks will go as far as the likes of Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa and Corey Crawford can take them. But if you’re looking for a barometer of where the team is at mentally, Andrew Shaw is your guy. The self-described “ratty” player is the Hawks’ biggest energy source.

But someone has pulled the plug lately.

Shaw entered Saturday night’s game at Montreal without a single hit in three of his last four games, and without a point, either. As a result, Joel Quenneville dropped him from the third line to the fourth line, where he centered Brandon Bollig and Ben Smith against the Canadiens.

Shaw’s sluggish play is emblematic of the Hawks’ lackluster play in 2014, which they’re 1-1-2.

“Recently, his game hasn’t had the energy that we’re talking about across the board with our team,” Quenneville said, “That tenacity that we’re accustomed to seeing — that’s his game and his trademark. Across the board, we haven’t had that tenacity as a team.”

Shaw didn’t disagree with his coach’s assessment. He started the season very well, with 10 goals and 10 assists through his first 32 games. But he has just one goal and no assists in the 12 games since, struggling to produce points and to spark his teammates since Bryan Bickell returned from a knee injury on Dec. 17.

“I don’t think I’ve been playing my best hockey as of late,” Shaw said. “I know I [can be] better. Hopefully, the shakeup of the lines can help me get out of the slump I’m in.”

Quenneville had been reluctant to break up his fourth line of Bollig, Marcus Kruger and Smith, as it had emerged as the team’s top checking unit, playing more minutes than most fourth lines see. But with Kruger getting a crack at the second line, and Michal Handzus moving down to the third, Shaw said he can be a good fit in a more defensive role.

“I’m proud to play defense,” he said. “With good defense comes the offensive chances. If we keep competing and working together, we can turn it around here.”

And while Quenneville hopes a checking role — not to mention a demotion — lights a fire under Shaw and reawakens the rat within, Bollig and Smith hope that Shaw can help them generate a little more offense themselves.

“He likes battling in the corners, he’s strong defensively and he gets to the net,” Smith said. “Bollig and I were talking about it, and we’re excited to play with Shawzie. Hopefully we’ll get more shifts in the offensive zone and create more scoring chances.”

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