LAS VEGAS — Sweat poured off Olli Maatta’s forehead but words did not pour out of Maatta’s mouth after another exhausting morning skate Tuesday.
Maatta has practiced and skated every day lately but remains out of the Blackhawks lineup, missing his fourth consecutive game Tuesday, as he battles a mysterious and debilitating illness.
“You’re trying to get better day by day and every day you want to play, and obviously it’s not easy when you can’t do that,” Maatta said. “It’s mentally pretty drowning, too.”
The often jovial defenseman clearly did not have his usual spark in the locker room, and based on his profuse sweat, the 20-minute morning skate had taken a lot more out of him than normal.
“He’s still recovering,” Jeremy Colliton said. “It took a lot out of him, so we got him out on the ice now, and we just want him feeling confident that he’s ready to play.”
Maatta survived a frightening brush with cancer while playing on the Penguins in 2014, so when he said Tuesday he’d never battled an illness like this before in his NHL career, his words carried some weight.
But both Maatta and Colliton were atypically vague about exactly what illness Maatta is suffering through. They’ve used the term “flu-like symptoms,” but that’s used pretty universally in hockey for all sicknesses — Robin Lehner was ruled out with “flu-like symptoms” last week but later said he actually had food poisoning.
Whatever it is, though, it’s clearly weighing on the 25-year-old Finn.
“We’ve got a lot of knowledge and good professionals here to help with that,” he said. “Obviously it’s a lot of stress to your body, so it’s not easy if you’re not 100 percent. That’s a big thing, just trying to get back in there as quick as you can.”
Toews relishes breakout
Jonathan Toews scored three points in Sunday’s shootout loss to the Coyotes, marking his first three-point game since Jan. 20 of last season.
It’s been a difficult season so far for the Hawks’ captain, who was on a mere 42-point pace before Sunday after erupting for 81 last year. His career-low 7.7 shooting percentage indicates regression will work in his favor as the winter wears on, but Toews nonetheless hasn’t looked quite like his dominant old self this autumn.
So that made Sunday’s performance — which included just his second 5-on-5 goal of the season — especially sweet.
“It’s funny, I feel like I’ve got a million chances...where they just don’t find their way in,” Toews said. “So when they all go in, it’s nice and you almost take it for granted, because it’s like it’s easy all of a sudden.”
It’s a moment he hopes can become a turning point.
“I’ve just got to stop worrying about that sort of thing, create the plays, get myself to areas where I can get those chances, shoot the puck,” he said. “You’ve just got to create that feeling within that you’re going to get the bounces and the puck’s going to go in.”