Despite all his offensive ability, Jonathan Toews always has been defined not by numbers, but by intangibles — his leadership, his two-way game, his sheer force of will. But like just about every other player, Toews keeps an eye on the stat sheet, and can be just as much a numbers guy as anybody else.
“When I like my stats, yeah,” he said with a smile. “If I don’t like my stats too much, no, not so much.”
So, sure, Toews knows full well he’s the top faceoff guy in the league this season, winning 58.7 percent of his draws. But he also knew that, as of just a couple weeks ago, he was far below the nearly point-a-game production he’s enjoyed for the past five seasons.
His shots were down significantly, and his possession numbers, while still good, were down, too. But the drop in the simplest of all stats — goals scored — was the most glaring. At the Christmas break, Toews had just 11 goals, and only five of those came during 5-on-5 play. In a 25-game stretch between Halloween and Christmas, Toews had one or zero shots on goal a stunning 14 times.
“It’s not for a lack of trying,” Toews said in late December. “I want to be shooting. I want to be getting those chances. I just need to keep working for those scenarios. Eventually they’ll start going in.”
That’s the thing about Toews. Whether it’s a scoring drought in the 2013 playoffs, a midseason dip the following season, or a two-month hiccup like this one, nobody ever worries about Toews. Least of all Toews himself.
And sure enough, Toews has course-corrected in dramatic fashion during the Blackhawks’ 10-game win streak. He has six goals and five assists during the streak, climbing all the way to 16th in the league in goals. In Thursday’s win over Montreal, Toews passed Patrick Sharp for 11th on the all-time franchise list. And he’s doing his best to keep longtime running buddy Patrick Kane at bay — Kane, the league’s leading goal scorer with 28, is just seven back (Kane has played 11 more games in his career).
After going through a half-dozen left wings over the first couple of months of the season, the Hawks’ top line finally has some stability with Andrew Shaw playing as well as he ever has. It’s no coincidence that both Toews and Marian Hossa are playing their best hockey of the season now that their line isn’t changing every other game.
“I don’t think the three of us are putting any pressure on ourselves, the way maybe we were earlier,” Toews said. “A lot of that comes from just having the puck a lot more. I think we’re finally starting to know where the other guys are on our line, and we’re able to get pucks away from pressure and buy each other some time and space. And plays are just developing for us.”
Hawks coach Joel Quenneville never has a bad word to say about his captain, and downplayed the early scoring slump while highlighting Toews’ stellar all-around game, particularly the way he handles the difficult defensive assignment he tends to draw. But Quenneville could sense some frustration in Toews’ game in the early going.
“He wants to score like top guys do,” Quenneville said. “But it’s been tough around the league this year. A number of guys, their offense is down.”
But Quenneville wasn’t worried. Neither was Toews. Neither were any of his teammates. Toews always seems to find a way.
“We know if it doesn’t go in here or there, the chances are going to keep coming, and I think we’ve seen that the last few games,” Toews said. “It’s fun to play that way right now.”
NOTE: Bryan Bickell was once again placed on waivers, according to TSN. If he goes unclaimed and is sent down to Rockford again, the Hawks will free up $950,000 of his $4-million cap hit.