Blackhawks

After slow offensive start, Jonathan Toews is back on track for Blackhawks

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AP

After slow offensive start, Jonathan Toews is back on track for Blackhawks

Jonathan Toews has never been known to be a big-time goal scorer or point producer. He’s widely regarded as one of the top two-way players in hockey and has been since he entered the NHL in 2007.

But when he contributes on offense, the Blackhawks are a better overall team and it's shown over the last few weeks. 

Before Tuesday's game against Calgary, I brought up to Toews that his offense has been coming more naturally and consistently for a while now.

“Has it?” Toews said. “I guess if you’re telling me that, it’s a good thing.”

I responded by asking him whether he disagrees. After all, he is a harsh self-critic and always feels like there’s another level he can get to no matter how well he’s playing.

“I mean, I still feel like there’s more on the table and I’m not exactly happy with my production as it is,” Toews said. “But I’m finding ways to get the puck and be creative with it and play with confidence."

Toews is selling himself a little bit short. 

He got off to a slow start this season, recording only two points (one goal, one assist) in his first 11 games. But since the calendar flipped to November, the Blackhawks captain is producing at nearly a point-per-game pace with 33 tallies (10 goals, 23 assists) in 35 games. The goals aren't coming at a similar rate, but the point production is right on par with last season, when he had his best statistical output with 81 points (35 goals, 46 assists) in 82 games.

Toews has three multi-point efforts in his last five games and is up to 10 total on the season. He hasn't gone more than two games without registering at least one point since October, which shows the consistency in his production. And it hasn't gone unnoticed.

"As the year has gone on he's getting better and better playing a hard game and taking the puck to the net and gaining confidence he's going to make a difference for us offensively," head coach Jeremy Colliton said. "He knows he's a great player and he knows he can make a difference for us but it's another thing to see the puck go into the net and get that feeling that he's producing for the team. Positive to see."

Toews is also doing a better job at creating chances. 

In the last five games, the Blackhawks are controlling 58.2 of the shot attempts, 59.1 of the scoring chances and 59.4 of the high-danger chances when Toews is on the ice during 5-on-5 action, according to Natural Stat Trick. 

On Thursday against Nashville, Toews had a game-high seven controlled entries and possessed the puck on his stick in the offensive zone for 0:52, according to Sportlogiq. Only Patrick Kane had the puck on his stick longer (1:13).

On Saturday against Anaheim, it was a similar story. Toews had a game-high eight controlled zone entries, generated one scoring chance off the rush (which he scored on) and possessed the puck on his stick in the offensive zone for 0:33. Again, only Kane had the puck on his stick longer (0:54).

Even though the offense has started to flow, Toews will always pride himself on the way he defends and making sure he’s on the positive side of the goals for and against category. He has minus-6 rating for the season, but he's a plus-4 over his last five games if you exclude the two empty-net goals by Nashville on Thursday.

"No, no, I feel like I’m playing better hockey," Toews said. "I look at my plus-minus and it’s nice to get a few plusses here and there. You know you’re on the right side of the puck and you’re creating, but also being responsible and not giving up too much on your own side."

At the same time...

"You can’t just be relying on 88 to put up three or four points a night," Toews said smiling. "So we’ve got to spread it around a little bit."

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What we learned about Blackhawks during five-game road trip

What we learned about Blackhawks during five-game road trip

"Every game now is a playoff game, pretty much. We've got to approach it like it's life or death."

Those were the words of Drake Caggiula and that was the mindset for the Blackhawks going into their five-game road trip in Western Canada, which was easily their most important swing of the season to date, given the circumstances. All five teams were ahead of them in the Western Conference standings, the Blackhawks were knocking on the door of a playoff spot and they had a chance to prove themselves ahead of the Feb. 24 trade deadline.

The Blackhawks finished the trip with a 1-4-0 record, picking up only two out of a possible 10 points. They ended the weekend sitting six points out of the final wild card spot with two games in hand but four teams to jump. It's not impossible to get back in the race, but the cards are certainly stacked against them.

So what did we learn about this team?

The easy narrative would be to say the Blackhawks shrunk in games that had playoff-type implications, but that‘s just not true. They simply failed to capitalize on their opportunities, and they had plenty of them.

In Game 1 against Winnipeg, the Blackhawks held a 2-0 lead before allowing a shorthanded goal in the second period that was the first of five unanswered for the Jets, who went on to win 5-2. The Blackhawks went 0-for-3 on the power play and were outscored (1-0), outshot (3-2) and out-chanced (4-2) during those three opportunities. That was their downfall.

In Game 2 against Edmonton, the Blackhawks held a pair of one-goal leads — 2-1 in the first period and 3-2 in the second period — but couldn’t close the deal despite the Oilers playing without the NHL's best player in Connor McDavid. Again, a huge missed opportunity that was there for the taking.

In Game 3 against Vancouver, the Blackhawks peppered a season-high 49 shots on goal on Jacob Markstrom, 25 of which came from high-danger areas, but couldn't crack the code. It was one of their most dominating performances of the season from start to finish and yet they weren't rewarded for it.

In Game 4 against Calgary, the market quickly corrected itself when the Blackhawks scored a season-high eight goals on 28 shots in an 8-4 win over the Flames. It’s the exact response they were looking for, with all four lines contributing on the scoresheet.

In Game 5 against Winnipeg, the Blackhawks scored the first goal, then fell behind 2-1 before evening things up at 2-2 in the final minute of the second period. The game was up for grabs. But the Jets scored 1:36 into the third period after a shot from the point deflected off Alex DeBrincat’s stick and in, and it turned out to be the game-winning goal.

Look, there are no moral victories at this time of year. An ugly win beats the heck out of a pretty loss.

If the power play doesn't go 0-for-14, we might be having a different discussion because it had a chance to change the complexion of each game except the last one — because, well, there were no penalties called on either side, which was the first time that's happened in an NHL game this season.

But the Blackhawks have no margin for error and they're learning that the hard way.

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3 Takeaways: Blackhawks have hole to climb out of after road trip

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USA TODAY

3 Takeaways: Blackhawks have hole to climb out of after road trip

Patrick Kane had a goal and an assist, but the Blackhawks lost 3-2 to the Winnipeg Jets on Sunday to close out their five-game road trip. Here are three takeaways:

Bad trip

After losing in Winnipeg, the Blackhawks finished their five-game road trip with a 1-4-0 record. They began the trip last Sunday in Winnipeg with a 5-2 loss. 

Sunday's game against the Jets had flashes of good, but it was mostly strong plays from the go-to guys like Kane and Jonathan Toews. All three Jets' goals came from deflections off shots from the point. Overall, the effort and productivity paled in comparison to the lone victory of the trip, Saturday's 8-4 win over the Flames in Calgary on Saturday. 

The Blackhawks, six points out of the second wild card spot, will return home and face the New York Rangers at the United Center on Wednesday. They have 23 regular season games remaining. 

Kane keeps climbing 

With a two-point outing in Winnipeg, Kane tied former Blackhawk Steve Larmer for 87th on the NHL all-time points list with 1,012. 

"Showtime" set up Ryan Carpenter for the first goal of the game at 15:44 of the first period by backhanding a pass towards the front of the net for the crashing Carpenter to bury.

Kane scored with less than a minute remaining in the second period to tie it 2-2 off a three-way passing play with Jonathan Toews and Dominik Kubalik. Kane has 27 points (seven goals, 20 assists) in his past 18 games. 

With the primary assist on Kane's goal, Toews earned his sixth point (two goals, four assists) of the road trip. 

0.0

Sunday's Blackhawks-Jets game was the only NHL contest this season to have zero penalties. This was good news for Toews, who had five minor penalties over the prior four games. 

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