Blackhawks turn to ‘nuclear line’ with Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews
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With the Blackhawks staggering through a five-game losing streak and the season sliding into insignificance, coach Jeremy Colliton went into the lab and played mad scientist with his lines.
He poured this tube into that one and mixed names in a beaker until sparks flew, smoke rose and bolts of lightning cracked across the sky. A profound idea emerged in his moment of genius: Put his two best players together.
It’s a forward combination some playfully refer to as the ‘‘nuclear line,’’ and the elements include Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. It’s highly dangerous, as the Capitals saw when Toews (three) and Kane (two) combined for five goals in the Hawks’ 8-5 victory Sunday.
‘‘It makes the game simple,’’ Kane said after practice Monday. ‘‘It’s not like you have to think too much or even talk too much about what we want to do. We just want to work hard, win battles and play well defensively. If we do that, we should get a lot of chances.’’
Colliton would be crazy to split them apart now. And while he definitely tinkers with the lineup, he’s not crazy.
‘‘Last [game] was perfect, so you assume we’re going to play together in the near future,’’ Kane said.
Colliton played coy, but that future surely will be Tuesday against the Islanders.
Pairing Kane and Toews — the third member of the line is Drake Caggiula, by the way — isn’t as obvious a move as it might seem. Colliton’s preference has been to anchor each of the top three lines with a premier scorer, so the Hawks have Kane, Toews or Alex DeBrincat on the ice most of the game.
But desperate times call for desperate lines. The Hawks still are striving for a playoff spot. While it’s still an extreme long shot on paper, Colliton and the players refuse to concede.
‘‘We’re going to play until we’re out of it,’’ Colliton said. ‘‘No reason to give up. We’ll do everything we can.’’
That’s the basis for going all-in with Toews and Kane, regardless of the ripple effect that has on the other lines. DeBrincat gives them some punch on the second line with Dylan Strome and Dominik Kahun, and Colliton hopes Brandon Saad can lead the third.
That’s all boring, though. Let’s get back to the nuclear line.
Kane and Toews have the potential to make each other better. Toews frees up Kane from some of the dirty work. Kane is good enough with the puck that Toews can shift into more of a scorer’s mentality on offense.
Kane described Toews as ‘‘pretty much the perfect center’’ for a scoring-obsessed wing like himself.
‘‘He wins a lot of battles, he wins faceoffs, he’s obviously able to make plays and he can get to the hard areas, too, so he opens up a lot of space,’’ Kane said.
Toews, who’s resurgent after underwhelming production the last two seasons, said he likes that Kane’s ability takes some burden off him.
‘‘You don’t have to over-support guys like that,’’ Toews said. ‘‘He always seems to find a way out if he’s in trouble.’’
When they talk about playing together, they laugh, as though it’s comical how easy the game becomes.
‘‘It’s important as a coach to know what the players want,’’ Colliton said. ‘‘Doesn’t mean you give it to them, but it’s something you’ve gotta consider.’’
Kane was already on a blistering run before the lineup change and has 12 goals and 14 assists in his last 11 games. Toews, however, had only two goals in his last 15 games before unloading on the Capitals.
With both stars firing at full capacity, that line can be overwhelming, and there has been little about the Hawks this season that can be called overwhelming. It’s time to unleash the most powerful weapon they have.