It was as if the Chicago Blackhawks threw names in a bag, shook it up and pulled out new line combinations for Tuesday’s practice at Fifth Third Arena.
Back-to-back shutout losses in the preseason will do that.
“Just to try things,” coach Luke Richardson said after practice. “I haven’t been here long, and now that we’ve got the numbers down (the Hawks cut the roster to 33 players Tuesday), I’m going to be able to do that.
“The next few games we’ll try a few combinations, and maybe even within the game I’ll try a few different things depending on penalty situations.”
For most of camp and the preseason, the Hawks have matched Kane with newcomers Domi and Andreas Athanasiou.
But Kane played Tuesday with Toews and Tyler Johnson, who was briefly Kane’s linemate last season before Johnson contracted COVID-19 and later needed neck surgery.
Toews joked about teaming up with his partner through 14 seasons and three Stanley Cup championships.
“We’ll be like a grumpy old couple probably bickering at each other on the bench,” Toews said. “I’ve just got to make sure I win all my draws out there or else I’m going to hear it from him.”
He added that it never takes long to pick up on each other’s habits.
“Whenever Kaner and I have been thrown together, we know how to support each other,” Toews said. “And I always know where he likes to hang out and how to get him the puck and how to be available for him.”
Said Richardson: “I’ve watched Kane and Toews play for years, and I’ve seen Athanasiou play lots and Domi play but not together. I like to see it with my own eyes and see what the feel is on the bench and in practice.
“Sometimes something will click and you never know why and you’re surprised that it does, but it might be something we’re missing just because we didn’t try it.”
As much as the preseason can be an indicator, the Hawks have more work to do with the offense than simply trotting out new alignments. At times they struggled to generate shots on goal during 3-0 losses to the Detroit Red Wings and Minnesota Wild in the last two games.
“Anytime part of your game stands out, it’s not doing too well, you want to focus on it and make sure that you improve in that area,” Toews said..
Said Richardson: “We showed some video today about shooting the puck, taking the opportunity to shoot the puck and get out of that summer hockey mode where you’re slowing things down, making cut passes and cute plays. Obviously it showed on the scoreboard for us, and we’re missing the net when we do shoot the puck because it’s probably a second late or two seconds late.
“You saw it a couple of times in practice today, tried to bark out, ‘Shoot the puck!’”
Toews agreed the team needs to simplify things.
“Goal scoring is not necessarily something you can force, (and) I don’t think we’re necessarily snakebitten,” he said. “It just comes from playing better at both ends of the rink and then creating those chances.”