Line combinations can sometimes be rolls of the dice. You want the right chemistry, the right fit and the right mix of attributes.
On Thursday night, the Chicago Blackhawks found that in their combinations, especially their revamped top line.
Andrew Shaw and Jonathan Toews each scored twice, and Brent Seabrook had two assists as the Blackhawks beat the Columbus Blue Jackets 6-1 at the United Center. The Blackhawks, who scored five or more goals for the 23rd game this season, remain in third place in the Western Conference.
Coach Joel Quenneville was looking to bolster the Blackhawks’ offense, which had five goals against Pittsburgh on Saturday but has otherwise been listless. With Marian Hossa sidelined with an upper-body injury, it gave him a chance to dabble. Saad and Toews gelled well last season, and Shaw, who was playing just his second game with Toews – his first was in his NHL debut – rounded out the chemistry.
“Whether individual (plays) or using one another, they really protected the puck well through the middle and in the offensive zone,” Quenneville said. “For a line that’s never played together, it looked like there was a lot of familiarity out there.”
Marcus Kruger had two assists. Brandon Bollig and Bryan Bickell also scored and Corey Crawford stopped 22 of 23 shots for the Blackhawks.
Shaw’s breakaway goal off a beautiful pass from Sheldon Brookbank started the Blackhawks’ run of five unanswered goals.
“Thread a needle; unbelievable,” Shaw said of the pass. “We just made eye contact and knew what we were going to do. He fired it; I’m just lucky I handled it.”
The top trio continued to be the catalysts. In the second period Shaw landed a big hit on Nathan Horton, drawing several Blue Jackets to him and leaving Saad free to shift, swerve and shoot. Jonathan Toews got the rebound on that sequence, scoring his first of the night.
“I didn’t even realize how many times he dangled through,” Toews said of Saad. “I was just waiting for the puck to come to me on the goal line. Eventually it did. Great play by him.”
The Blackhawks’ outing, however, goes beyond that top line. They held the Blue Jackets to just 23 shots and the defensemen added some offense of their own, from Seabrook’s two assists to Brookbank and Keith each adding one. Keith finished a plus-4 for the evening.
“It helps, for sure, having the defense involved and keeping pucks in the zone, moving around, creating space for our forwards,” Keith said. “We did a good job of that tonight.”
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The Blackhawks had the right line chemistry. They got critical points as they try to keep pace with their fellow Western Conference foes. It’s getting down to crunch time in the regular season. The Hawks needed to find a way to wake up its offense. Perhaps they have.
“We have to remind ourselves, if we get up early, we have to keep working on our game,” Toews said. “We know we don’t have too many games left. Every point is important. At the same time we want to keep improving. We had a good bounce back from the softer effort against Colorado.”