Chicago Blackhawks fans who watched practice Tuesday at Johnny’s IceHouse West can be forgiven if they felt like they walked into a time machine that transported them back to 2009, 2010 or 2011.
Was that really Jonathan Toews skating with Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp?
Indeed, it was.
After rubbing their eyes, however, fans realized Andrew Ladd, Dustin Byfuglien, John Madden, Kris Versteeg, Tomas Kopecky and Troy Brouwer were nowhere in sight and these are still the 2017 Blackhawks — a squad desperately searching for offensive consistency.
To help his team find it, coach Joel Quenneville plans to roll out a Sharp-Toews-Kane line when the Hawks visit Philadelphia on Thursday.
“I liked it,” Kane said after practice. “I think it’ll be fun to play with those guys.”
“We look at our production over the last 10 games at least, our production is as low as it’s been,” Quenneville said. “We’ve tried a number of combinations — all kinds of different looks. … We can always (re-)visit all our lines as we’re going along.”
Although Kane and Toews often played with each other early in their careers, they have spent just 20 percent of their 5-on-5 time together since the 2011-12 season.
Quenneville likes splitting up his two stars to create balance, but with the Hawks near the bottom of the league in scoring, it’s apparently time to put the band back together.
“(We’re) three different players. You’ve got a playmaker/puckhandler, a grinder, a shooter,” said Sharp, although not many grinders have seven 25-goal seasons to their name. “We all have speed; we all kind of think the same way.
“It’s been awhile since we’ve been a unit, but if that line plays next game, hopefully we can do something.”
By one metric, the Toews-Kane pairing didn’t work particularly well last season as the duo was outscored 15-11 during their 342 minutes of 5-on-5 time, according to naturalstattrick.com. Team success, however, was a different story as the Hawks went 11-3-2 and averaged 2.75 goals per game when the pair began a game together.
The onus to score isn’t necessarily all on Kane, Toews and Sharp, but the three realize they’ve got to do more to spark the offense as:
• Toews has 1 goal in the last 10 games.
• Kane hasn’t scored in five games.
• Sharp has 1 goal since the season opener.
“I know myself as an offensive guy for this team, I need to be better,” Kane said. “I need to create more.”
Toews is more than willing to let Kane do his thing and maybe pop up when least expected.
“When I play with Kaner I always seem to be able to disappear,” Toews said, “and he can buy himself time and space with the puck so well that I can go to the net or areas where the puck might show up after we get scoring chances or shots.
“With Sharpie, he’s such a good finisher and he can just make plays and always seems to be in the open ice with the puck under control.”
So can the Hawks actually turn back the clock almost a decade and rediscover the magic that made this line one of the most feared in the entire NHL?
“That’s the goal. Create some magic,” Kane said. “The biggest thing is we’ve got three good players on the line so make sure you’re not standing around waiting for the other guy to do it.
“Go and make stuff happen yourself … Keep moving out there and hopefully we can create some of the things we’ve done in the past.”