CHICAGO — This is an odd time for Jonathan Toews. He won the Selke Trophy as the NHL’s best defensive forward Friday and was a finalist for the Mark Messier Leadership Award, and he is three wins from winning the Stanley Cup for the second time as the captain of the Chicago Blackhawks. Coach Joel Quenneville called him “the ultimate player as far as in all three zones.” His legend is growing, and he is only 25 years old.
Yet lately he has talked about not showing “any sort of weakness” or wallowing in “self-pity.” He is a complete player, one of the best in the game, but he has not been complete in these playoffs. He hasn’t won faceoffs as often as usual. Fifty-three percent. He hasn’t excelled in one of those three zones – the offensive zone. One goal. Eight assists. He knows if he scores, the Blackhawks have a better chance to win, and if he doesn’t, he better provide defense and leadership. He better set an example.
“If you’re not scoring, if you’re not doing something, if something’s not going well, you can always just find it in yourself to find a way to bring something good and help your team in any single way,” Toews said. “I don’t think there’s any time to sit there and feel sorry for yourself and let your confidence go down the drain. I think that’s why I take being the captain of this team very seriously. You have to be very unselfish.”
It is easier to be a team player on a deep team. The Blackhawks have gotten away with getting one goal from their No. 1 centerman because they have gotten goals from so many others – from stars Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp and Patrick Kane to role players Bryan Bickell, Andrew Shaw and Michael Frolik. Toews started to feel heat in the second round, when the ’Hawks scored two goals in three games and faced a 3-1 series deficit against the Detroit Red Wings, but then he got his lone goal, his team came back and the heat cooled quickly. As long as the team wins, his production won’t be a big issue.
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But it might be harder to be a leader when you aren’t scoring as expected, even if the team is winning, anyway – maybe because the team is winning, anyway. Goals and points are hockey currency. They buy you credibility. They make you feel like you’re a driving force. Without them, you need other redeeming qualities. You need mental toughness.
“It’s impossible for him not to measure his game on his production,” said Blackhawks veteran Jamal Mayers. “That’s just in his DNA and who he’s been his whole entire career. But he does certainly a lot more as a player and as a leader. It’s a testament to the person that he is.”
Toews was drafted third overall in 2006. He was named the best forward when Team Canada won the Olympic gold medal in 2010. He won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoffs’ most valuable player when the Blackhawks won the Cup later that year. A strong case can be made that he should have been a finalist for the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s regular-season MVP by now, especially this year.
The Blackhawks won the Presidents’ Trophy as the NHL’s top regular-season team, and he was their best all-round player. He had 23 goals and 48 points in the lockout-shortened schedule, which project to 39 goals and 82 points over a normal 82-game schedule. Both would have been career highs.
But Toews won that Conn Smythe for what he did in the first three rounds in 2010, when he had seven goals and 26 points in 16 games, and his playoff production has fallen off sharply since. He had no goals and three assists – and was minus-5 – in the six-game final against the Philadelphia Flyers that year. He has four goals in his past 39 playoff games. He has 20 points in his past 37 playoff games. He is tied for 12th on the team in goals and sixth on the team in points in these playoffs.
This is not a small sample size, and these are not the numbers expected from great two-way forwards, not even close, no matter how much anyone adds speed, affects possession, generates scoring chances or shuts down the opposition. These are not the numbers Toews expects from himself.
“Have you changed as a player since the last time you were on this stage?” a reporter asked.
“To be honest with you, I ask myself that question,” Toews said. “When pucks weren’t really going in, I didn’t seem to be contributing the way I know I could throughout the playoffs. People say whatever they want to say, but I think when it comes down to it, I haven’t let it bother me and I haven’t let any of that sort of thing hurt my confidence. I don’t think my game has [regressed] in the last couple of years. I think I’ve only gotten better. I keep wanting to assume more responsibility in all parts of the rink. I want to improve every part of my game.”
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There is no easy explanation for why pucks aren’t going in. Toews has 56 shots in these playoffs, fourth-most on the team, but his shooting percentage is .018, second-worst on the team among those with a goal. All he can do is keep shooting. All he can do is hope he breaks through, and if he doesn’t, keep acting like it doesn’t matter, keep doing everything else he can to make sure it doesn’t matter. The way the ’Hawks are going, it might not.
“He’s grown up his whole life dominating every game he’s played in, and for him not to produce I’m sure is tough,” Mayers said. “We don’t see that side. We see the side that’s committed to winning hockey games. It’s a testament to his maturity at such a young age. If he has those little feelings, it’s only because he wants to win. It’s not anything else. He does so much more for us that I haven’t even thought of it. It’s not even a topic of conversation. It’s amazing that Tazer has one goal.”
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