Andrew Shaw, Marian Hossa and Jonathan Toews gathered to celebrate the first of Shaw’s two goals on Tuesday night.
Celebrations have replaced the frustrations that dominated the first line’s first half of the season: great, sometimes glorious, scoring chances just wouldn’t go past goaltenders. But in recent games the Blackhawks’ top line has been just that.
Shaw scored twice, Hossa had two assists and Toews added another helper in the Blackhawks’ 3-2 victory over the Nashville Predators on Tuesday night. It was the second consecutive game in which the top line came through with big points — Hossa had two goals, breaking his 14-game goal-less streak, in the Blackhawks’ victory over Colorado on Sunday.
Finally, that line is clicking.
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“Yeah it seems like the chemistry started to show a little bit,” Hossa said. “We definitely had some good looks before but we couldn’t put the puck in the net. Now we’re finding the net. That helps the confidence, the smoothness and everything else.”
Shaw said he and his linemates are communicating better, too.
“I think we’re talking about where we’re cycling, when we need to be and playing tight defensively,” he said.”
It’s also been a consistent line, personnel-wise, lately. The Blackhawks spent a good deal of the first half trying to find the right left wing for Hossa and Toews. Pretty much every forward on the team – Shaw, Teuvo Teravainen, Ryan Garbutt, Bryan Bickell, Artemi Panarin, and former Blackhawks forward Viktor Tikhonov among them – got an opportunity. Most including Shaw got two or three auditions there. Richard Panik was set to get a chance there, and he still could at some point; but Panik’s visa issues and a delayed arrival, coupled with the line starting to work with Shaw, put that option on hold.
Right now, Shaw is the guy up there.
“He’s been good,” coach Joel Quenneville said of Shaw. “That line is coming off two good games on the production side of things. They’ve been playing well, they got a big assignment and winning that game, it really enhances our team game. Shawzy’s been around the puck and gets two goals basically because he’s around the net.”
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As much as the left-wing carousel was a problem, that wasn’t the top line’s only issue. Hossa went through the longest goal-less streak of his career before he snapped it on Sunday. Toews has been more consistent with goals (16), but four were overtime winners and several others came on special-teams situations.
All the while the Blackhawks leaned heavily on their ultra-productive second line of Panarin, Artem Anisimov and Patrick Kane. Eventually that top line had to help in the heavy lifting.
“They’ve been the motor of the team, scoring 90 percent of the goals,” Hossa said. “It’s nice to get help from different lines so they can take a break.”
It took a while, longer than anyone on the Blackhawks would’ve liked, but the top line has found its rhythm again. More important, it’s finding the back of the net again.
“There have been [slow] stretches but this year it was a long stretch. We’re glad, so far, it’s been working out the last few games for us,” Hossa said. “We just need to keep doing what we’re doing now.”