Blackhawks’ Jonathan Toews on fans, the word ‘rebuild’ and his need to be better
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Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews might be the last player in Chicago — in any sport — anyone would accuse of letting his guard down, failing to give his all or comporting himself as anything less than a consummate pro.
But these are grueling times for the Hawks, who have lost 12 of their last 15 games. Trying times, and that’s true for everyone from general manager Stan Bowman to greenhorn coach Jeremy Colliton to the players riding the healthy-scratch carousel.
It’s true for Toews, too, who doesn’t exempt himself from criticism that the Hawks — with all their struggles and all the changes swirling around them — have been far from their physical and mental best.
‘‘I’ve had my moments on the bench, on the ice, where I haven’t shown the best body language sometimes,’’ he said. ‘‘I’ve got to be better and focus on my own game. What am I going to say?’’
That alone is a strong start because the Hawks are going nowhere this season if they don’t take accountability for their shortcomings in areas such as focus and intensity. If there’s anything positive to take from a debacle such as their embarrassing 8-3 home loss Tuesday to the Golden Knights, it’s that truths are beginning to be told.
‘‘We find ourselves just kind of relaxing for a couple of seconds here or there,’’ wing Patrick Kane said. ‘‘Players in this league are too good. They’re going to make plays. It’s in the back of your net, and it’s like, ‘What just happened?’ ’’
Toews held tight to the notion that the Hawks, who are in next-to-last place in the Central Division — and facing a daunting trip to Winnipeg and Nashville — can turn their season around. The word ‘‘rebuild’’ isn’t flying with him.
‘‘We’re close to being back in the mix, and we’re close to a winning streak that takes us right back where we want to be,’’ he said. ‘‘So we’re sticking with that belief.’’
But he recognized the possibility that it’s a bridge too far to the playoffs and admitted it would be OK to miss out for the second consecutive season as long as it served the greater good.
‘‘It has to be [OK] either way,’’ he said. ‘‘Regardless if you’ve played a couple of games or 100 games or have 1,000 games of experience, we’re all learning from this. We’re all getting better from it, too. So you’ve got to keep focused on the big picture.’’
Meanwhile, Toews is frustrated. He also is filled with resolve to lead a change for the better. And make no mistake about it, a player can be fueled by both emotions at once.
Fans are frustrated, too. Toews understands that because (1) it’s common sense and (2) he has the gift of hearing. Boos such as the ones heard Tuesday at the United Center drive the reality home even for those who rather would not think about it.
‘‘You don’t want to disappoint your fans,’’ he said. ‘‘That’s what it comes down to. You’re playing for them. You know what it’s like to cheer for a team and to be behind a team. But we know if they’re hard on us, that means the expectations are high — and that’s a good thing.’’
But fans know an unfocused team when they see one. They see when one team is flying and the other flittering.
It’s unacceptable. Give Toews credit for owning up to it.
‘‘We’ve got to give it more,’’ he said. ‘‘I guess it’s really just as simple as that.’’
NOTES: For the second consecutive day, rookie defenseman Henri Jokiharju — who also missed the game Tuesday — was held out of practice because of an illness. He’ll make the trip to Winnipeg and Nashville and might be back in the lineup Thursday against the Jets.
• Defenseman Connor Murphy practiced again, but he’s not quite ready for his first game of the season.
‘‘I don’t know if he’s cleared for contact, but he’s looking for contact,’’ coach Jeremy Colliton said. ‘‘So that’s positive.’’