Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa have been two of the foundation players of the Chicago Blackhawks for six years now. They've played together on Joel Quenneville's top line for most of the past four years, combining to form one of the best two-way forward combinations in the NHL. They combined for 50 goals last season, and have 710 goals between them in their NHL careers. So it's a bit strange to see the way they've struggled so mightily this season, combining for just one goal -- a shorthanded tally from Hossa -- and seven points through Chicago's first seven games this season before Toews finally got the monkey off his back Saturday night against Tampa Bay with an overtime winner.
Mark Lazerus of the Chicago Sun-Times spoke to Toews about his goal drought on Thursday, asking Toews if he needed to have a shoot-first mentality. Toews had this to say:
"First and foremost, I’ve got to get to the areas where I’m going to get to shoot, and once I do get there, like you said, be selfish and shoot the puck," Toews said. "Whether it goes in or not, we’re always going to generate chances and further possession off of shots. That’s what I need to be thinking — going out there and using that shot and making myself dangerous as a result of that. You kind of open up other options, too, when guys will be jumping on you thinking you’re a threat to shoot the puck all the time."
Through Chicago's first six games, Toews had put just 11 shots on goal. During Thursday's game against Florida, he was pressing hard for a goal. He had five individual shot attempts, four scoring chances, and two high-danger scoring chances, according to War on Ice. During Saturday night's 1-0 overtime win over Tampa Bay, he only managed two shots on goal and two scoring chances at 5V5.
This isn't the first time that Toews has experienced a long goalless streak, as Lazerus notes. He went 11 games without a goal mid-way through last season, and in 2013-14 he had one goal in a 14-game stretch. He also infamously had a 17-game stretch to open the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs in which he scored just one goal. He's no stranger to the goalless stretch, nor to snapping out of them.
"Some guys are more natural to get into it right away, and [for] some it takes a little longer," Hossa told Lazerus on Thursday. This is extremely evident on the Blackhawks through the first seven games of this 2015-16 campaign. Chicago's second line of Artemi Panarin, Artem Anisimov, and Patrick Kane have been extremely productive thus far. Kane leads the team and is tied for second in the NHL with 10 points. Panarin has eight points, including six assists that have him tied for fifth in the NHL in that area.
Meanwhile, Toews and Hossa continue to struggle. Toews specifically has struggled in areas of his game in which he has typically dominated.
I know it’s only 7 games. I know that, on average, the numbers should regress to where we’d expect. Still, this: pic.twitter.com/q6F6QFEwls— Second City Hockey (@2ndCityHockey) October 23, 2015
More than his Relative Corsi, though, his overall Corsi percentage of just 49.36 percent through these first eight games is the lowest of his entire career. In fact, the only other time he's posted a CF less than 55 percent was in his rookie season of 2007-08 when he had 50.08 percent share of the shot attempts. He's never been below 50 percent until now. Moreover, despite his goal in last night's win, his Corsi actually dropped, as it was at 49.49 prior to last night.
Part of this is certainly linked to the inconsistency he's experienced with left wings to open the season. To this point he's been flanked by Teuvo Teravainen, Ryan Garbutt, Andrew Shaw, and Viktor Tikhonov at different points during the season, but rarely for much time. Teravainen got just one game on the top line; Tikhonov only just assumed that position on Thursday night.
However, the linemate situation doesn't seem to be enough to be dragging Toews down. After all, Hossa has still been able to post a CF of 53.81. Toews is typically a dominant possession player, and it hardly seems likely that inconsistency on his on his flank would cause such a horrible drop in his possession and play driving abilities. Still, perhaps more consistency there will help.
Regardless of what the cause is, be it linemates, a potential nagging injury, or just an extreme lack of shooting luck, there's clearly something wrong with Jonathan Toews, and it's affecting Hossa as well. When one is going well, the other seems to follow along, but to this point they have struggled to produce much. While it's still early in the season, this is a trend that will need to change soon if Chicago hopes to keep it's place as one of the league's powerhouses this season. Perhaps Toews' Saturday winner is a sign that it is.
All statistics via War On Ice.