As a frequent critic of the hectic, travel-heavy schedule, Jonathan Toews is worried about what effect the extended holiday pause will have on the later-season schedule.
But as a 33-year-old Blackhawks captain coming off a lost season, Toews’ immediate focus has to be getting through each game, one at a time. And therefore, in the short term, he knows this break — which began Wednesday and runs through Sunday — will help him by providing time to rest and recover.
“For me personally, it’s definitely a relief,” Toews said Tuesday. “It’s nice to get a few days here and there to maintain and take care of myself, and [to] get myself in better condition going forward for the rest of the season.
“This year has been just a grind, physically and mentally, trying to get back to . . . the level I’m capable of playing at, where I feel like I’m contributing to our team. I’m moving in the right direction. Time like this definitely helps me personally.”
Before the current COVID-19 surge hastened this temporary shutdown, giving everyone a few days off, Toews had been playing easily his best hockey since his return.
His long-awaited first goal of the season Dec. 9 against the Canadiens jump-started a four-game point streak, which included his second goal Dec. 11 against the Maple Leafs and third goal Dec. 17 against the Predators. After tallying just nine points in his first 25 games this season — and just one in his last 11 games before the Montreal trip — those four points in a five-game span were a welcome sight.
Toews also won 66 of 100 faceoffs in those five games. And in them, the Hawks produced a 27-21 advantage in scoring chances and 12-5 advantage in high-danger scoring chances during his even-strength ice time, indicating his defensive- and neutral-zone play was effective, too. He now ranks third on the team in even-strength scoring-chance ratio, trailing only Brandon Hagel and (strangely) Erik Gustafsson.
“Whether we [got] this break or not, [my] confidence is coming back,” Toews said. “It definitely helps when you see the puck go in and you have a couple on the scoresheet. It feels a lot better right now. I’m just looking forward, not really looking back.”
Knowing his performance is now trending upward, though, seemed to make Toews more willing Tuesday to discuss his struggles earlier this fall to rediscover his old playing rhythm.
He’d previously been hesitant to dive too deeply into that topic because he didn’t want to sound like he was making excuses for himself.
“To be quite honest, I feel like my instincts and the way I think the game, that’s like riding a bike — it’s there,” Toews said. “[But] as games go along, you get three or four games into a week and the recovery’s not quite there.
“All of a sudden, it’s difficult not to become calculated going into a game, knowing you don’t quite have it. You have to make smarter plays and get off the ice early. Not that you’re cutting corners, but you’re trying not to bite off more you can chew.
“The way the season started, not scoring a goal for however many games, there’s no doubt that builds on you and snowballs. It’s tough to get out of it unless you just go out there and play with more energy.”
After this week of rest, Toews’ challenge will be to pick up where he left off, to keep his newfound scoring touch going. He admitted that can be tough coming off a longer break — “there’s always that one- or two-day adjustment where you’re trying to get back to game speed,” he said.
But at least his body should have a little more energy built back up in its reserves by then.