Jonathan Toews still seeking consistent linemates
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ST. PAUL, Minn. — Everyone who’s ever played on a line with Jonathan Toews — which is almost the entire Blackhawks roster at this point — says that he’s one of the easiest players to play with.
So why can’t anyone stay up there?
“I think it’s easy to play with a guy like that, who works so hard,” said rookie Nick Schmaltz, Toews’ latest left wing. “When he’s working that hard, it makes you want to work that hard. It just brings up your game when you play with a guy like that.”
Toews has gone through more than a dozen linemates since the start of last season, in the wake of the Brandon Saad trade to Columbus. That trade finally stopped the revolving door on Patrick Kane’s line by bringing in Artem Anisimov, but it started the spinning on the top line.
And Toews, who has never exactly hid his frustration about it, has been paying the price with one of his worst offensive years. Even with a three-point night Wednesday in Minnesota, he’s at just 11 goals and 22 assists through 46 games.
“I would never have predicted that my line would change as much as it has,” Toews said. “It’s up to me to find that consistency with whoever I’m playing with.”
Wednesday was a good start. The latest incarnation of the line, with Schmaltz and Richard Panik, had a strong game. Schmaltz and Panik each scored, and Toews added a power-play goal in overtime.
“It was a lot of fun,” Toews said. “Schmaltzy and Panner wanted the puck everywhere, they were protecting it, keeping plays alive and we just seemed to read off each other a lot better.”
That’s been the challenge, to develop that chemistry. Toews noted that Anisimov’s line is allowed to have an off night here or there without fear of breaking it up, because it’s had so much success. If Toews’ line has a bad night, or if the Hawks’ offense in general isn’t producing, it tends to change game to game.
“Sometimes it is tough when you have to start that chemistry over,” Toews said. “Sometimes, even if I go a few games without scoring or producing, it’d be nice to start to build that chemistry and start to know where the other two guys are on your line.”
Schmaltz hopes he can be the guy to help stabilize the line.
“It’s tough in the first couple of games with new players,” Schmaltz said. “But as you play together more, you develop and understand tendencies, what guys want out of you and stuff like that. The more we play together, the better we’ll get.”
Martin Havlat, who played three seasons for the Hawks and scored 29 goals in the 2008-09 season, announced his retirement on Wednesday. Havlat helped lay the groundwork for the Hawks’ decade of dominance, but never won a Stanley Cup in Chicago.
“Any time you miss out on a championship, it’s a tough pill to swallow,” said former teammate Brian Campbell. “I even feel like I missed out on a couple. It sucks that way. I really liked him. Everybody did.”
Joel Quenneville, who took over as head coach four games into that 2008-09 season, also enjoyed having Havlat on the team.
“I liked Marty,” he said. “He had a real effective year for us. Dangerous player. … The guys really liked him as a teammate, as well.”
Havlat posted 594 points in 794 career games.
Rookie Vinnie Hinostroza will return to the lineup after being a healthy scratch in two straight games.
“We just want a little consistency,” Quenneville said. “Offensively defensively, [it’s] that predictability we want in our younger guys. It’s how you play without the puck in your own end, or how you back-check. Offensively he gives us some spark with his quickness and his speed. You just [need to] find that balance.”
Michal Kempny also returns to the lineup after three straight healthy scratches. He’ll replace Gustav Forsling, who had a big offensive night in Dallas, but a poor defensive game, including a turnover that led directly to a Stars goal.