Finding a center to play with Patrick Kane has been an ongoing problem for the Blackhawks and coach Joel Quenneville.
For now the job belongs to Andrew Shaw after stints by Michal Handzus, Marcus Kruger and even Kris Versteeg in the middle of the second line.
So far Quenneville has liked what he has seen from Shaw, Kane and Brandon Saad.
"Offensively, there's a lot there," Quenneville told reporters. "Everybody can do things together, and they all can make plays on their own. The three of them together is the makings of a line that can be productive. But what they're doing without the puck is how we want to gauge it."
Defensively is how Quenneville measures most lines.
"Defensively, what they're giving up is the best way to measure their effectiveness," he said. "They can create enough. We want to see them have more production, more chances for sure on their own side. And they've been like that so far."
Kane scored the Hawks' only goal late in the 2-1 loss Thursday at Minnesota, his first in 12 games.
"He's going to make great plays because he's a great player," Shaw told reporters. "All I have to do is create space for him and create traffic."
Quenneville thinks Kane is getting back to where he was in December when he dominated games and was named the NHL's first star of the month.
"I think he gets better every year," Quenneville said. "He gets stronger, he gets quicker, and I think his puck-possession game has been as high as it's ever been this year.
"He's shooting the puck well, his patience with the puck, play recognition, we use him with a number of different linemates, and even though his production hasn't been as good as it was throughout most of the season, he's still been really dangerous here recently. I think eventually they'll be going back in at the same rate."
Quenneville thinks Kane is more unpredictable with the puck.
"The one thing is, he's always been a little unpredictable," Quenneville said. "And his patience with the puck has been more prevalent this year, and I think his patience level with it, it just probably been even a little bit more so, which is pretty dangerous in its own way.
"But I think his puck-possession time is as high as it's ever been. In that way he's always been a threat. He generates high-quality chances for us almost every game."
Kane still is adjusting to playing with Shaw.
"I always ask him if there's anything I can do to get better," Shaw said. "He's positive. He says to outwork the opponent and we'll be in their end all night. When we do that, we create offense and score goals along the way."
Quenneville has said several times that he hoped Shaw at second-line center turns into a long-term solution. "It could be," he said.
Corey Crawford starts in goal Sunday against the Winnipeg Jets at the United Center, and the Hawks also are expected to have defenseman Duncan Keith back in the lineup. Keith sat out Thursday's loss at Minnesota with an illness.
The Hawks skated for about 30 minutes Saturday, playing mostly 3-on-3 scrimmages. "Whether they're tired or (tight), I just think it's about changing it up," Quenneville said.
It will be the Hawks' last game at the UC until March 4. They start a seven-game road trip Tuesday at Calgary that will be interrupted by the two-week break for the Olympics.
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