Blackhawks’ fourth line, centered by MacKenzie Entwistle, setting a ‘good example’

NEW YORK — MacKenzie Entwistle might be the most well-liked player on the Blackhawks.

In the locker room after any practice or morning skate, there’s a good chance the 23-year-old forward will be laughing, joking or messing around with several of his teammates, lightening the mood while simultaneously bringing a competitive spirit.

So when Entwistle — after 21 straight games without a goal to start the season — finally buried a shot Wednesday against the Oilers, the Hawks were thrilled.

“First of all, it’s great to see ‘Twisty’ get rewarded,” Max Domi said that night. “He has been playing so hard, and he’s such a great kid. We all love him in here. He has been all over it, so it’s awesome to see him get on the board.”

To Entwistle himself, the goal was just a relief — and a bittersweet sweet one, at that, considering the Hawks still lost that game.

“It sucks not being able to contribute,” Entwistle said. “Not that I wasn’t contributing, but I want to get on the board, I want to help the team win. I felt like, [during] my first 20 games, I had a couple looks and they just weren’t going in. It’s nice to finally get on the board.”

But he did believe it could ignite some momentum for the fourth line, which he has recently been centering with Boris Katchouk and Reese Johnson on his wings. Katchouk had scored his own first goal of the season, after 11 straight goose eggs, earlier the same night.

“It’s about building blocks, and tonight was a big building block for us,” Entwistle added. “The first 20 games, Boris was hurt for a little bit and Reese was in and out of the lineup. For us to get a couple points tonight…is a big confidence-booster. Now it’s just about doing that night-in and night-out.”

As it turns out, he was right.

Over the Hawks’ last three games now, starting against the Oilers and continuing against the Rangers and Islanders this past weekend, the fourth line has been objectively their best. In fact, based on the advanced stats, they’ve enjoyed one of the better three-game stretches by any Hawks line this season.

During their 19 minutes of five-on-five ice time together, the Hawks have enjoyed a 20-12 advantage in shot attempts and 9-3 edge in scoring chances, outscored their opponents 3-1 and produced 80.3% of the expected goals.

By comparison, the Hawks’ second-best line during this stretch — the second line, centered by Domi — sports a measly 39.5% expected-goals ratio. The third line (centered by Jason Dickinson) is at 36.7% and the first line (centered by Jonathan Toews) is at 33.4%.

In the Hawks’ skid-busting win Saturday over the Rangers, Johnson tallied the much-needed first goal of the game, concluding an excellent first shift for the whole line. Coach Luke Richardson mentioned twice after the game, then a third time before Sunday’s game, how strongly that shift set the team’s tone.

“Entwistle’s line again gave us a great start,” Richardson said. “[They] just put the puck in, forechecked them, got it back to the point and shot the puck while getting bodies in front. We got a good tip. The other guys recognized it, realized it and followed suit. So that was a good example for the whole team, the way they played.”

Even in the ensuing loss Sunday, the fourth line outshot the Islanders 4-2 (at five-on-five) while the rest of the team was collectively buried in shots, 28-12.

The Hawks will likely need more contributions from their bottom-six forwards Tuesday. The Devils’ shockingly good 20-4-1 start has been driven by their depth, with a whopping 10 forwards already having recorded at least 12 points. By comparison, only three Hawks forwards (Patrick Kane, Domi and Toews) have reached that threshold.

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