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Blackhawks still sputtering, Quenneville still tinkering in loss

WASHINGTON — Think back for a moment to last fall, when Joel Quenneville’s mad scientist routine was bordering on lunacy, with lines changing not just game by game, but period by period and even shift by shift. For about six weeks, until everything fell into place on the circus trip in November, Quenneville tried just about every combination possible, with players pinballing around the lineup from the top line to the bottom, from left wing to right, from wing to center. Anything to get his sputtering offense going.

It looked almost panicky at the time. In the end, of course, it all worked out just fine.

This is just what Quenneville does in the opening stages of the season as he feels out his roster. And that trigger finger is only going to be itchier this season, with five new faces among his 13 forwards.

“We’re still at that exploratory level right now,” Quenneville said before Thursday’s 4-1 loss to Washington. “Until we feel all four lines are going and we like the way they’re rolling in a game.”

Thursday — the Hawks’ second lackluster effort in a 26-hour span — was not that night. At the start of the game, Viktor Tikhonov had been elevated to the top line alongside Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa. Andrew Shaw had been bumped up to the third line. Kyle Baun had been re-inserted back into the lineup. And Ryan Garbutt, who started the game on the top line a night earlier, was a healthy scratch.

That all lasted about 15 minutes into a dreadful first period, as Quenneville swapped Hossa with Patrick Kane on the top two lines, and put Shaw back on the fourth line, where he’s been so effective. The lines only got more jumbled in the second period, with the 2013 playoff line of Bryan Bickell, Toews and Patrick Kane among the many combinations Quenneville sent over the boards. Teuvo Teravainen even found himself benched for a 10-minute span in the third period after he was on the ice for Washington’s third goal.

If it were any other coach on any other team, it would look desperate. But with Quenneville and the Hawks, it’s standard operating procedure. Asked Wednesday night about the revolving door at first-line left wing — which has seen Marko Dano, Shaw, Teravainen, Garbutt and Tikhonov take turns so far — Toews just shrugged.

“At some point, maybe we’ll score and then our line will stay the same way,” Toews said. “I’m not sure. We’ll keep working until that happens.”

Toews and Hossa are still stuck on no goals and four assists after Thursday’s sloppy effort against the Capitals. Quenneville was noticeably happier with the effort in Washington than with the no-show in Philadelphia a night earlier, as Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby had plenty to do with it.

Washington got a goal in each period, from T.J. Oshie in the first, John Carlson in the second, and Matt Niskanen in the third against Scott Darling. Among Holtby’s many big saves were back-to-back stops on Shaw and Marcus Kruger right before Carlson scored at the other end. That fourth line was far and away the Hawks’ best.

Viktor Svedberg — who unwittingly helped screen his goalie on a goal for the second straight night — scored the first goal of his career less than a minute after Niskanen’s. It was the Hawks’ first goal in 107 minutes, 46 seconds, dating back to Saturday’s 4-1 win over the New York Islanders. But that was as close as the Hawks got, as a Shaw penalty dulled the momentum, and Alex Ovechkin capped things off on an odd-man rush late in the third.

It’s only two games. And the Hawks have been here before. So while they’re frustrated, they’re not panicking.

“We’re not happy with how we played the last two games,” Kruger said. “We’re going to try to find a way and that’s usually what we do.”

But Duncan Keith said the Hawks can’t just expect things to get better. They have to actually get better.

“I don’t think we ever just sit back and think it’s going to turn around,” Keith said. “It’s always a work in progress. … We have a lot of talent, but I still think we can work a bit harder, win some races to the puck. And I think getting a lead would be nice.”

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com
Twitter: @marklazerus