EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — Take Patrick Kane off the Blackhawks roster, and there are still guys that can fill the net, gifted stars such as Artemi Panarin and Marian Hossa. Take Marcus Kruger off the roster, and there are still guys that can kill penalties, reliable grinders such as Dennis Rasmussen and Andrew Desjardins. Heck, take Corey Crawford off the roster, and there’s still a playoff-tested goaltender in Scott Darling.
But take Jonathan Toews off the ice and the lineup all but falls apart. Toews isn’t the Hawks’ top offensive threat. He isn’t their No. 1 penalty killer. He usually isn’t even on the No. 1 power-play unit. But he does all of those things, and he does them all at an extremely high level. He’s a grinder with jaw-dropping skill. He draws the toughest defensive assignments, plays in the game’s biggest moments, and is the Hawks’ captain and rock.
Even mired in a scoring slump as he is now, Toews has been, is, and will continue to be the Hawks’ most irreplaceable player.
“Jonny’s importance to our team is immense,” Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said after a Thanksgiving Day practice at the Los Angeles’ Kings practice facility. “In all situations, the minutes he absorbs and the assignments he gets against him —they’re all important minutes when he’s out on the ice. There’s a lot of ice time and a lot of quality ice time [to fill] if there’s not Jonny Toews in your lineup.”
Well, the Hawks will have to fill that ice time Friday afternoon against the Anaheim Ducks, and possibly Saturday night against the Kings. Toews left Wednesday night’s game in San Jose with an upper-body injury after falling awkwardly along the boards. He did not participate in Thursday’s practice — though he was at the Toyota Sports Center, looking ambulatory and able —but won’t play in Friday’s game, according to Quenneville. He has missed just three games in the last two-plus seasons. Asked if it was just precautionary or if Toews was physically unable to play Quenneville said Toews unable to play.
In his absence, rookie Vinnie Hinostroza was the top-line center, between Ryan Hartman and Marian Hossa. Indeed, the lineup looks a whole lot different without Toews anchoring that top spot.
“He’s got so much responsibility, not only as a leader and as our captain, but the ice time he gets,” Kane said. “We know that. But injuries happen in this game. I’m not sure if he’s playing or not [Friday], we’ll see. Knowing him, he’ll probably try and play.”
With or without Toews, the Hawks need to win on Friday if they want to finish the circus trip with a winning record. After dreadful efforts in Winnipeg and Edmonton, and a miracle comeback in Vancouver, the Hawks fell 2-1 to San Jose to drop to 2-3-0 on the trip. But they felt good about their game against the Sharks, stymied only by a stellar 33-save effort by goalie Martin Jones. Kane called it one of the Hawks’ better efforts of the season.
But the fact remains the Hawks have scored just eight goals in five games on this trip, with half of them coming in the third period and overtime in Vancouver.
“Play like that, we should be a successful team,” Kane said of the San Jose game. “More than anything, what stands out on this trip is the lack of goal scoring. Probably need some more production, start scoring goals, and stop leaving it all not he defense and [Corey Crawford] back there.”
Kane is back with Artemi Panarin and Artem Anisimov, and they looked dangerous in their first game together in nearly a month. It was probably the best line in hockey last season, but it still was always deemed the Hawks’ “second” line. That’s because whatever line Toews is on, is automatically the Hawks’ “top” line.
“He’s obviously a huge player in our lineup,” Kane said. “And if we’re missing him, we’re going to be missing a lot.”
NOTE: Crawford will start Friday against the Ducks, with Scott Darling likely playing against the Kings.