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After frustrating season, Toews looking forward to playoff boost

Jonathan Toews goes forehand to backhand to beat Coyotes goaie Louis Domingue for a short-handed goal in the Blackhawks' 6-2 victory Tuesday night at the United Center. Toews has 27 goals this season. (David Banks/AP)

Jonathan Toews does so many thing to help the Blackhawks that it’s probably not a big deal that his numbers are down this season — headed for career-lows in assists per game and points per game.

Not even Toews is buying that.

Asked prior to Tuesday night’s game against the Arizona Coyotes if he was happy with this 2015-16 season, Toews didn’t mince words.

“Obviously not,” he said. “It was at times frustrating. It is what it is. I always say, I don’t care who you are, when you’re scoring goals and things are going your way, it’s easier to play. It’s easier to motivate yourself, especially when it’s a long season.

“In that regard, there are some moments where it was tough [this season]. I’ve obviously got to assess my game and look at ways I can improve and produce more consistently over 82 games.”

Whether or not it was a coincidence, Toews’ moment of introspection seemed to motivate him against the Coyotes. He assisted on Richard Panik’s first-period goal — by putting the puck on net — then parlayed a steal at the Hawks’ blue line into a breakaway and short-handed goal that gave the Hawks a 2-0 lead 12:40 into the game. Toews also was locked in at the faceoff circle — 5-0 in the first period, and 7-3 for the game. He added an assist on a goal by Andrew Ladd for a three-point night as the Hawks won 6-2 to keep their long-shot hopes alive of wresting home-ice advantage from the Stars and/or Blues in the Central Division.

“It’s nice [to produce],” Toews said after the game. “I don’t know what it is — you can work as hard as you want, and I think when you score it just gives you energy. And it’s obviously a mental thing, but that was the way it was against  tonight. It’s nice to get that boost.”

Toews now has 27 goals and 30 assists for 57 points in 79 games this season — not alarming for a two-way player, even one with a $10.5 million cap hit this season — but clearly below average. Toews’ is averaging .722 points per game. In the previous six seasons, his average was .914. His plus-16 rating is his lowest since his second season in the NHL in 2008-09 (plus-12). He was plus-30 last season.

The obvious statistical culprit is his assists — Toews is averaging .380 assists per game, a big drop from his career average of .501 (and .520 the last six seasons). With Marian Hossa scoring a career-low 13 goals with a career-low shooting percentage of 7.8 (almost half of his 12.6 career shooting percentage coming into this season) and a revolving door of players replacing Brandon Saad, Toews’ top line has not been nearly as productive as in the past.

“Jonny’s line got off to an ordinary start and got behind as far as production goes,” Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “And they had some stretches that got us going on that roll [the 12-game winning streak] in the middle of the year.

“Every year is different. Jonny brings a lot more to the game than numbers and I think his overall contribution as a leader and playing the right way and finding a way to get wins is the way I want him to be playing. He always finds a way that always comes on usually the right side of either the chances for or against, and making sure that he does his job against the other team’s top guys.”

The addition of Ladd, who has scored eight goals on 36 shots and 12 points (22.2 percent) in 17 games with the Hawks — including five goals and seven points in his last six games — is starting to pay bigger dividends. The x-factor is Hossa, who missed Tuesday night’s game with a leg injury.

Regardless, Toews is confident he can produce when it counts — in the playoffs. He already was talking about the regular season in the past tense on Tuesday. And his record and reputation as an impact player in the playoffs is unquestioned.

“The best news is I have a great chance at playing my best hockey of the year,” Toews said. “That’s always my focus — trying to trend upwards as the playoffs come around. That’s what I’m looking forward to. I’m excited for that opportunity and I think every one in this [locker] room probably thinks the same way.

“Even a guy like Kaner [Patrick Kane], who had a tremendous season, still wants to play better hockey come playoff time. So that’s the way I’m going to look at it on an individual level — try to build my confidence the way I need to right now.”