Jonathan Toews heating up just as Blackhawks’ season nears the end

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Jonathan Toews celebrates a goal against the Bruins on March 10. (AP Photo)

Jonathan Toews had eight points in October, eight in November, eight in December, eight in January and eight in February.

A little more than halfway through March, he has 11. After a frustrating season of scoring droughts and bad bounces, Toews finally is getting hot. Just in time for the season to end.

It’s bittersweet, at best.

‘‘At the end of the day, you want to play good no matter what,’’ he said. ‘‘Pucks have been going in.’’

While the first five months of the season were below Toews’ standards, there’s nothing new about him peaking at this point of the season. March is the most productive month of his career, with 56 goals and 121 points in 139 career games. February and March (an average of 0.92 points per game) is when he typically heats up after a more pedestrian start (an average of 0.82 points per game from October through January), fine-tuning his game and hitting his stride just before the games really count.

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This season, there won’t be any games that really count. But that doesn’t render Toews’ late-season surge entirely meaningless. There’s something to be said for closing on a high note and carrying that confidence into the next season.

‘‘There’s still a lot of things I can improve on, as far as being heavier, being strong on the puck, not giving plays up, maybe being a little more patient and letting things develop, especially in the offensive zone,’’ Toews said. ‘‘Our line had a ton of rush chances [Saturday in Buffalo], but we can still be better at maintaining possession and giving each other outs in the offensive zone. We just seem to be one great scoring chance and then back down to our end all the time. It’s pretty tiring to play that style of hockey, and that starts with me in the middle.’’

That line, a loaded-up unit of Toews, Brandon Saad and Patrick Kane, has been dominant since it was put together, generating several scoring chances a night. And Toews, after a frustrating season of being unable to capitalize on his chances, had four goals and seven assists in his last eight games before being blanked in a 5-4 overtime loss Sunday to the Blues.

Toews has been his usual solid two-way self for most of the season, and the offense finally is starting to catch up with the defense.

‘‘It’s just a matter of things clicking,’’ said Saad, who still is waiting for his own breakthrough. ‘‘He’s been getting chances, too, but they seem to be going in for him. As a line, we’re playing better offensively. We’re spreading them out, holding on to pucks more and maybe we have a little more confidence with the puck.’’

Toews has bristled at the idea that the Hawks merely are playing out the string, long since eliminated from postseason contention. But during previous droughts, he frequently would talk about not dwelling on the production, about not putting too much pressure on himself. It’s certainly easier not to think about it when the games don’t mean much.

Instead of pressing so much offensively, Toews has tried to be more patient, playing lower in the defensive zone and focusing more on giving his wingers exit options. Because the easier it is to exit the defensive zone, the easier it is to enter the offensive zone.

‘‘Sometimes when you play loose and you’re not so focused on the offense, it tends to come,’’ he said. ‘‘And you just go out there and play the situation, wherever you’re at.’’

It’s a small but not insignificant comfort at the tail end of an otherwise miserable season.

‘‘We’ve got a lot of ability on our team, and it’s up to us to keep working, keep striving and fulfill that potential on a nightly basis,’’ Toews said. ‘‘There [have been] some growing pains this year, and we all need to learn from that.’’

Follow me on Twitter @MarkLazerus.


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