Captain Jonathan Toews needs to lead Blackhawks by example
BY RICK MORRISSEY firstname.lastname@example.org May 23, 2013 10:46PM
DETROIT, MI - MAY 23: Jonathan Ericsson #52 of the Detroit Red Wings takes a stick to the chin from Jonathan Toews #19 of the Chicago Blackhawks during the second period in Game Four of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2013 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Joe Louis Arena on May 23, 2013 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Updated: May 24, 2013 11:26AM
DETROIT — There was something a tad much about what Jonathan Toews said Thursday morning. Something overboard, something overdone. Something too too, if you know what I mean.
“When you put it all together and we play the right way, we’re an amazing, amazing bunch of guys,” he told reporters.
It didn’t sound like the understated captain we know. It sounded like a guy working on self-esteem exercises, Captain Serious morphing into Captain Chamber of Commerce.
“There was a reason we made it this far,’’ he said. “We’re a good team — we’re a really good team.”
Maybe Toews needed to say those uplifting things to remind himself of who he is, or was. Maybe he needed to positively reinforce himself and his teammates. By saying good things out loud, maybe he could make them be true. The Blackhawks would hear it and recall that, by golly, they are good.
Or maybe not.
The top-seeded Hawks fell 2-0 to the Red Wings on Thursday, giving seventh-seeded Detroit a 3-1 series lead in this Western Conference semifinal. They were done in by Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard, who stopped everything like a dartboard. It’s every bit as grim as it sounds for the team that had the NHL’s best record during the regular season.
The Hawks needed a huge effort by Toews, and he responded with … wait for it … three straight penalties in a five-minute stretch of the second period. Two of them were high sticks.
It was almost unimaginable that a player normally so calm and collected could leave such a huge crater on the ice. That might have been more unlike him than his earlier rah-rah comments. The frustration of a tough playoffs clearly has gotten to him, no matter what he told media members Thursday morning.
“Emotions run high in some of these games, and my stick got a little loose there,’’ he said after the game. “I was playing hard. Sometimes that happens.’’
Effort isn’t the issue. Toews played like a man possessed. Unfortunately, he played like a man possessed by Jamal Mayers’ scoring ability. He was all over the place, hustling and forechecking, but when it came to goals, nothing. Toews knows it’s a team game, but he also knows that stars are expected to produce in big games. He is not.
He has no goals in nine postseason games. His 23 regular-season goals tied for fifth in the league.
“We played our tails off,’’ Toews said. “We did a lot of good things. We just didn’t find the back of the net.’’
Things had gotten so bad that for Game 4, Michal Handzus took Toews’ place on the top line with Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa. Toews played on the second line with Patrick Kane and Bryan Bickell. It was one of the few times this season he didn’t have Sharp and Hossa as linemates. It was about as drastic a move as coach Joel Quenneville could make.
It’s why all eyes were on Toews. Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby has played well in the playoffs. So has Detroit’s Henrik Zetterberg. Lots of stars have. Where has Toews been? Mostly blanketed by Zetterberg’s suffocating, borderline felonious defense.
“There’s a lot of elements to his game that help our team game,’’ Quenneville said in defense of his star. “We don’t measure just his contribution offensively.’’
Toews’ best chance came when he got ahead of the defense in a scoreless first period, but Howard made a pad save, and that was that.
Toews was furious about the second of his three second-period penalties, a high-stick call that was more wrong place/wrong time than anything else. He knocked Justin Abdelkader’s stick into Abdelkader’s face.
Detroit’s Jakub Kindl scored a goal on that power play, ending a streak of 30 kills by the Hawks.
It wasn’t just that Howard was spectacular, though he certainly was that. It was that it never felt like the Hawks were going to score, even with all the pucks clanging off iron. It was a reminder that inspirational speeches don’t score goals; people do.
No matter how many pucks the Hawks put on Howard, he acted as if they were spitballs. And they were dreadful on the power play all night.
“Eventually, something’s got to give,’’ Toews said.
“We’re too good a team. We’ve got too much talent. For as hard as we’re working, something’s got to go our way.’’
The Hawks don’t need a cheerleader. They need their captain back.