Toews not sweating goal slump, doing the little things
|Bill Smith / Chicago Blackhawks|
It happened on a power play in Game 5 of the Chicago Blackhawks' Western Conference Semifinal series against the rival Detroit Red Wings.
Jonathan Toews fired a puck off goalie Jimmy Howard's mask into the upper right corner of the net from close range -- and that's the only goal the Blackhawks' captain has scored so far in the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Let that sink in for a second.
Toews, who won the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2010 as most valuable player of the playoffs, has scored once on 51 shots during this postseason. Despite that, his team is still set to play the Boston Bruins in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on Wednesday night at United Center (8 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, RDS). That's how deep the Blackhawks are this year -- and that's how much Toews has grown as a person, teammate and captain.
"There's a lot of people on the outside watching, and the easy thing to notice is when you score goals or when you score points," Toews said at Tuesday's Cup Final media day. "I mean, at the end of the day that's how you win games, by scoring goals, but I feel like there's still a lot of good things in my game, [and] that all of a sudden it could change [in Game 1]. I could score a couple goals and next thing you know, no one's really worried about that anymore. That's just the way it is. I know that's the way things are, so I'm not too worried about it."
A couple of years ago, the lack of goals would've worried him.
Toews still prides himself on being the hardest worker on the team, pretty much on a year-round basis. He still wants to lead by example, as much as by anything he says, but the difference now is how the example has changed.
In 2010, Toews led the Blackhawks in postseason points with 29 (seven goals, 22 assists) in 22 games. This year, he's not only been criticized for losing his cool while being hounded by Red Wings forwards Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, and he's got eight assists to go with the one goal.
But measuring his contributions to this playoff run by sheer points would be a mistake. Toews is leading Chicago's forwards in ice time (21:02), is their top performer on faceoffs (53.1 percent) and has a plus-4 rating -- compared to the minus-1 he logged while winning the Conn Smythe. The points are down compared to 2010, but the intangibles are still there -- just ask his teammates.
"I definitely think you mature as you get older," defenseman Duncan Keith said. "I think you just get that experience and you just understand that, hey, not everything's going to go your way and not everything is going to be seen the same way from people. I think he's done a good job just keeping a level head, and that's what makes him a great player."
Right wing Patrick Kane, who's always put together with Toews as the faces of the organization, noticed another area of change in "Captain Serious."
"I don't think things affect him as much as they did in the past," Kane said. "He works as hard as anyone and I think he knows that. He's been playing great for us throughout the whole playoffs, and maybe even if the goals aren't there, he's huge in a lot of different factors of the game … penalty kill, power play, faceoffs. He plays in every situation and he's been a huge reason we're where we're at."
A good example was the goal Kane scored in double overtime of Game 5 in the Western Conference Final that gave the Blackhawks a series win against the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings. After Bryan Bickell chipped the puck into the Kings' zone, there was Toews swooping in to scoop it up and create a 2-on-1 rush with Kane.
His pass wasn't perfect, but it was good enough for Kane to bury a one-timer into the upper part of the net to end it. Toews could have taken the shot, but the pass was the best play to make. So, he made it.
That's what players like Toews do, and that's why they win so often.
"I think he's the same player, only he's gotten better," Kane said. "He's gotten better at a lot of different things since . I think we all have. As each and every year goes on, I think he still becomes a better leader, and for this year, it's the same."
Has Toews changed at all since receiving the Cup from NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman in Philadelphia three years ago?
"To be honest with you, I asked myself that question when pucks weren't really going in [for me] and I didn't seem to be contributing the way I knew I could throughout the playoffs," Toews said. "People can say whatever they want to say, but I think when it comes down to it, I haven't let it bother me and I haven't let any of that sort of thing hurt my confidence."
That might not be the answer some expected to hear, but "Captain Serious" doesn't really care.
"I don't know how that comes off," he said. "I know everyone has their tough moments, and for the most part I try to stay positive. I don't think there's any time for any sort of weakness during the playoffs. If you're not scoring, if you're not doing something, if something's not going well, you can always just find it in yourself to find a way to bring something good out and help your team in any single way."
That's exactly what he's been doing this spring.
"I don't think there's any time to sit there and feel sorry for yourself and let your confidence go down the drain," Toews said. "I think that's why I take being the captain of this team very seriously. You have to be very unselfish. I keep saying over and over, if you don't score goals or contribute offensively as much as you should be, you can't let that affect you. There's a lot of other things you can go out there and do to help your team. That's what I've tried to do."