Jonathan Toews has long been a forward-thinking person. Whether it’s his diet, his training regimen or his personal causes, the Blackhawks captain is always trying to learn more. So it’s little surprise that he’s also the rare breed of player who keeps an eye on the analytics behind the game — possession proxies, high-danger scoring chances, expected goals-for and the like.
“To a certain degree,” Toews clarified.
But he doesn’t need to go online to know the Hawks take a whopping 57 percent of the total shot attempts when he’s on the ice. That they get more than 55 percent of the scoring chances. That they should get 55 percent of the goals. He can feel all that. He knows he and Brandon Saad have the puck a lot. That they’re around the net a lot.
But Toews also knows, most important, that they’re not scoring a lot. And that’s a problem.
“That’s what I try to focus on — I’ve got to go out there and I’ve got to create,” Toews said. “I can be harder on the puck, I can keep it in the offensive zone longer, and eventually things will develop. When goals aren’t going in, you’ve just got to keep looking for solutions. You don’t want to overthink things, but you want to remind yourself of what you’re good at and stick to your guns. For me, it’s just working harder and creating that positive feeling going into every game, knowing something’s going to break loose at some point.”
Sunday night in Calgary might have finally been that point. Toews crashed the net to jam home Jordan Oesterle’s rebound for his 10th goal and won a faceoff that led directly to Saad’s game-tying goal with 1:46 left.
“They were really good,” coach Joel Quenneville said.
Toews hadn’t registered a point in the previous six games, and he released that frustration with a thunderous fist-pump after his goal. That’s what he’s supposed to do — score goals and earn points, on both the scoresheet and in the standings. But it’s been a struggle. Despite a change in his offseason workout habits that has caused him to feel better with each game — a far cry from the last two seasons, when he felt “heavy” and started to wear down as the season wore on — Toews is having the worst statistical season of his career. This, even though the advanced metrics say he’s nearly back to his prime levels, when he was one of the most dominant two-way centers in the game.
After three straight 28-goal seasons, Toews scored just 21 last year. He’s on pace for 21 again, with just 51 points. For contrast, he had 48 points in 47 games in the lockout-shortened 2013 season.
At least part of the issue can be chalked up to the disappearance of Richard Panik, who hasn’t scored an even-strength goal in 31 games. Another part is puck luck.
But it still all comes down to the captain, the center of it all. It has been on Toews to keep confidence high during the Hawks’ most trying campaign in several years. It has been on Toews, the only center on the roster who could win seemingly every key faceoff, to do that.
And it’s also going to be on Toews, as much as anybody else, to get the offense going.
Toews is well aware that far more is expected of a player making $10.5 million per season — 14 percent of the Hawks’ entire roster, in terms of cap space. He feels the weight of that contract as much as he feels the weight of the “C” on his chest.
“There’s no doubt that sort of thing is on your mind,” he said. “But we’ve got a great team and a great group of guys, and for me to be worrying about the business side, it never helps your game. You just want to go out there and have the best impact you can on your team every single day. And obviously, with where we’re at in the standings and in the season, it’s going to take a lot more than I’ve shown lately.”
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