For an annual Selke Trophy contender as one of hockey’s best defensive forwards, Jonathan Toews’ first two weeks of the 2019-20 season have been remarkably subpar.
Heck, even by fourth-line standards, a four-game stretch like Toews’ current run wouldn’t be good.
Toews entered Wednesday ranked 390th out of 391 eligible forwards across the NHL in scoring chances allowed per minute — only the Rangers’ Chris Kreider has allowed more. With the captain on the ice this year, opponents have hammered the Blackhawks 44-22 in scoring chances.
Patrick Kane is actually barely above Toews — ranking 381st — but Kane has at least tallied two goals and three assists. Toews’ lone point is an assist on an empty-net goal, which saved him from his first-ever four-game scoring drought to start a season.
After the first two games, which were undoubtedly his worst, Toews was honest that “there’s a lot I can do better.” But he added that — as he nears 900 career appearances — he’s not too discouraged by a lone rough week.
“I’m at that point of my career I’m not going to get antsy if I don’t score for a couple games,” he said Saturday morning. “It just comes down to the little things I’m doing. Just got to pinpoint what you can do better.”
He followed up that quote up by blowing an assignment on the Jets’ tying goal.
But to his credit, he then turned in his first decent performance of the year on Monday.
The Hawks had a 9-4 advantage in chances even-strength against the Oilers with Toews on the ice, as his mishmash line with Alex DeBrincat and Drake Caggiula clicked surprisingly well defensively. And offensively, Toews was credited with six shot attempts — trailing only red-hot Brandon Saad and Dylan Strome — and four of the Hawks’ six total rebounds created.
He made a visible impact on the game during most of his shifts, and he seemed more like the confident, poised star to which the Hawks have grown accustomed.
Even on the empty-net play, Toews found a soft spot in the defense to receive Saad’s drop pass and would’ve had a goal, rather than the assist, if not for a big save by Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
“Definitely made some more plays,” Toews said. “Was better defensively. Just got to find a way to play with some more energy, more speed. Hasn’t been there yet.”
For as hard as Toews has been on himself, coach Jeremy Colliton has been equally unwilling to criticize his team’s captain.
Colliton has frequently noted that Toews’ point production probably will even out over a larger sample size instead of addressing Toews’ uncharacteristic defensive shortcomings over the first four games.
“He’s playing hard, and whether the points go in or not, those tend to even out,” Colliton said Wednesday. “Top players find a way to produce eventually, and they all go through stretches where it doesn’t go in the net for them. But I’ve got zero issues with his work ethic and compete level, and he’s going to lead the way for us.”
Toews has such a long track record of well-above-average offensive and defensive play that it is essentially a foregone conclusion his slump will eventually end, and probably soon.
But the Hawks stilll would be appreciative if Monday turns out to be the official end of Toews’ slump, rather than it continuing deeper into the homestand.