Do you remember when you were young, and you had that one toy that you tore to shreds, but would never let your parents throw away? Maybe it was an action figure that you tore the extremities off, or a Barbie that was missing all of its hair, and your mom would ask you every few months if she could toss it, but you insisted on keeping it. And after a while, your mom got fed up and started pointing out all of the flaws in the toy, even if it fell on deaf ears.
This is sort of what’s happened with Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews the past few years.
Now, let me be clear, I am not saying that Toews is bad. I believe quite the opposite. However, while Toews is still an excellent player in many respects, he is far from the elite, top-five NHL player he once was, or at least was considered to be by many.
The attachment to Toews, and to his reputation as one of the NHL’s best players, from fans, the media, and the NHL alike has caused a good deal of backlash recently from detractors who are eager to point out the reality of Toews’ capability at this point in his career. Critics of Toews, for lack of a better word, insisted at various times throughout the past year that he shouldn’t have received many of the honors he was granted, and only seemingly got louder as the honors continued to come for the Chicago skipper.
And again, Toews is hardly a bad player. After posting just 58 points in 80 games in a down year in 2015-16, Toews bounced back pretty well, posting an identical point total 72 appearances this season. Although that isn’t an increase in actual production, Toews’ performance this season had him at a 66-point pace, which falls in line with how he’s produced in the past. While it’s not elite-level production, it falls in line with what many people expect from a top-line center in today’s NHL.
But the critics remain eager to hop on Toews whenever his production falters, and lately they’ve been able to out-hop to gosh darn Easter Bunny. That’s because “Captain Serious” has been seriously awful in his team’s first-round series against the Nashville Predators, and his putrid play has been entirely complicit in the Blackhawks’ struggles as they now find themselves staring down a 3-0 series deficit.
You don’t have to look too far to see evidence of Toews’ struggles in the playoffs. Through three games, he has just one point, an assist, in the series. He’s posted poor possession numbers as well, with a lowly 48.31 percent Corsi during 5-on-5 play, per Natural Stat Trick. His possession play has horribly deteriorated throughout the series, as he was able to control 71.43 percent of the attempts in Game 1 before dropping to 51.85 percent in Game 2, and then 34.15 percent in Game 3. Playing worse when your team needs you to be performing better is not exactly ideal.
Toews’ playoff production issues go well beyond the three games the Blackhawks have played this last week, too. He has scored just one goal in his last 16 playoff games after going goalless in last season’s first-round series loss to the St. Louis Blues, and posting just one goal in six games during the 2015 Stanley Cup Final. Again, this is less than ideal.
And while Toews is hardly the only Blackhawk to struggle to find the back of the net this season or last, he is without a doubt the most important one. Toews’ production has been a key part of each of the Blackhawks’ long postseason runs in this era. Toews has never posted fewer than 13 points in a postseason where the Blackhawks made it out of the first round, and he posted more than 20 in two of their three Stanley Cup-winning seasons.
The Blackhawks face a near-impossible task. Overcoming a 3-0 series lead has only been done four times in NHL history, and with the way that the Predators have dominated the Blackhawks so handily in this series to this point, it’s hard to believe the Blackhawks have any chance of making it five. However, when pushed into a corner, this Blackhawks core has been known to punch their way out. And as long as they’re still in the playoffs, they’ve still got a chance, no matter how small.
But if the Blackhawks are going to do pull this off, they’re going to need Toews to right the ship now. If they’re going to force a Game 5, they’ll need a strong Game 4 from their leader on Thursday night. There’s simply no more time for him to find his stride.