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Marian Hossa rejuvenated by long offseason, new linemates

Marian Hossa scores against Colorado goalie Semyon Varlamov while falling to the ice during the first period Friday night. (AP Photo)

Marian Hossa saw Artemi Panarin deep in his own zone in the first period Thursday night, quickly figured out what was about to happen, and simply made a break for it. Sure enough, Panarin flipped a sneaky pass off the boards right to Hossa, who corralled the puck and immediately zipped ahead of Colorado defenseman Fedor Tyutin, who initially had a step on Hossa. As he raced in on Avalanche goaltender Semyon Varlamov, Hossa reached back with his left arm to shove Tyutin off of him, controlling the puck with one hand before roofing a shot over Varlamov’s glove hand while being nudged from behind by Tyutin.

Hossa crashed into the boards hard, but immediately popped up to his knees, his arms raised in triumph.

The old guy’s still got it.

“Such a smart play by Panarin,” Hossa said. “He saw me just use my speed, so he flipped the puck so fast off the boards behind my back. I was just hoping he could do that. As soon as I saw the puck going, I tried to use my power moves, tried to out-speed the defender, and tried to finish it.”

That power move has been Hossa’s bread-and-butter for nearly two decades in the NHL. That speed has never left him, either, as evidenced by how quickly he can track down forwards barely half his age on the backcheck. But that finish — that’s what eluded him last season, when he scored a career-low 13 goals. No matter how often he broke free of defenders, no matter how many times he crashed the net, the puck just wouldn’t go in for him.

Well, the puck’s going in now. Hossa scores twice in Friday’s 4-0 victory over Colorado, and has four goals in his last four games. He only scored two goals in a game once last season, and never had more than two goals in a four-game span. Through 10 games, he has five goals and four assists. It’s still early, but he hasn’t produced points at a clip like this since his 77-point 2011-12 campaign. And he hasn’t scored goals at a rate like this since his 30-goal 2013-14 season.

It seems nobody has benefited more from the Hawks’ longest offseason since the 2012 lockout than the 37-year-old Hossa.

“He’s obviously shown that he’s used the rest,” Jonathan Toews said. “He’s coming in with tons of confidence, he’s having a lot of fun, he’s playing loose, and he’s scoring. That’s good to see. He worked so hard last year, so it’s nice to see him [rewarded].”

The alarming drop in Hossa’s shooting percentage last season, combined with a couple of relatively minor injuries, left his pursuit of his 500th career goal hanging over his head. A training-camp story line lasted all season, and he finished stuck on 499 goals. Finally getting No. 500 out of the way in the Hawks’ fourth game of the season seems to have liberated Hossa a bit.

“It’s nice to have those things behind [you], and you can just focus on another day, another game,” Hossa said. “You don’t have to think about chasing one goal or having a ceremony or these things. It was beautiful, everything, but now we move on and it’s [just] great memories.”

Said Toews: “That’s got to be a pretty amazing feeling just to get there. I don’t care if you score another goal the rest of your career or not, it’s a pretty special thing. It seems like he’s fed off it.”

Toews knows Hossa as well as anybody, having been his linemate for the past several seasons. But it was Joel Quenneville’s decision to swap Hossa and Patrick Kane in the lineup — a move made largely to spark Toews — that has actually sparked Hossa. The big Slovak obviously plays a very different game than the shifty Kane, but he’s been a perfect fit alongside Panarin and Artem Anisimov. The way he read Panarin’s intentions on his first goal Thursday night was a perfect example of the instant chemistry the trio has found.

“I’m enjoying playing with him a lot,” Panarin said through an interpreter. “He’s a master, I would say one of the greatest players. And we have a lot of really nice moments.”

After a frustrating season that left him openly wondering if age had finally caught up to him, Hossa has been rejuvenated by the long summer and a hot fall. And suddenly, those nice moments are coming in bunches again.

“You know, sometimes when the puck goes in early for you, you’re more relaxed,” Hossa said. “All of a sudden, you don’t force things. I think, right now, that’s what happening. I’m playing with two very good players, trying to find an open area, and those guys can find me. Things are clicking.”

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com
Twitter: @marklazerus