Jonathan Toews has five-point night, including a hat trick, in Blackhawks' win over Wild

Jonathan Toews has five-point night, including a hat trick, in Blackhawks' win over Wild

ST. PAUL, Minn. – The points weren't there for Jonathan Toews earlier in the season. His confidence waned, too, as the Blackhawks captain's frustrations built.

Fast forward to the present, when Toews is starting to look like himself again. And on Tuesday, as the Blackhawks continued to play their best hockey of the season, Toews had his most productive game of the season.

Toews had a five-point night, including a hat trick, as the Blackhawks beat the Minnesota Wild 5-3. The Blackhawks won their seventh consecutive road game, tying a franchise record first set during the 1964-65 season. The Blackhawks have won seven of their last eight games and are now five points behind the Wild, who enter their bye week. 

As much as the Blackhawks wanted to be rounding into form at this point of the regular season, so did Toews. The visible frustration he showed earlier this season, when nothing seemed to work offense-wise, is gone. He, Richard Panik and Nick Schmaltz have formed a strong and productive top line, with all three having great nights on Tuesday. Schmaltz had a goal and two assists and Panik had a goal and an assist.

"I think even the other night in Buffalo we had a ton of chances and the puck wasn't going in much. But sometimes you just have nights like that. Either way it's a lot of fun to play with Schmaltzy and Panner right now the way they're working, the way they're holding onto the puck," Toews said. "It's nice for us to get some results. It definitely changes the way you see yourself and your confidence. It's a lot of fun to come to the rink to come working at it and keep improving off efforts like that."

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The Blackhawks needed every bit of what they got on Tuesday, be it from Toews or from the team overall. The Wild, once again, weren't going away quietly. Mikael Granlund's second power-play goal of the night, with less than seven minutes remaining in regulation, cut the Blackhawks' lead to 4-3 at the time. Toews' lengthy empty-net goal with 1:02 left in the game sealed it.

"He just wasn't getting the bounces at the start of the year. He always worked so hard. You knew at some point tides were going to change for him," said Schmaltz, whose slick behind-the-back pass led to Toews' second goal of the night. "Pucks are going in, he's hanging around the net and he's burying a few lately. It's great to see."

The Blackhawks are finding their four-line rotation and their more complete game at just the right time. Toews is doing the same thing with his production.

"I think for me the biggest change in my approach to the game is just my expectation. Just try and go into every game with no expectation, focus on the process, focus on playing well, playing the right way, staying in the moment, especially if things don't go in or things don't go your way," Toews said. "Just building one game after another to try and follow up good efforts and put weeks together, multiple games back to back."

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: Blackhawks offense finally opens things up as Patrick Kane starts streaking

USA Today

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: Blackhawks offense finally opens things up as Patrick Kane starts streaking

On the latest Blackhawks Talk Podcast, Pat Boyle and Charlie Roumeliotis break down the changes made to the Hawks defensive zone coverage (1:50) and Patrick Kane’s current points streak (7:30). They also discuss how most of the players that have been scratched recently have had bounce-back efforts (11:20), as well as the improved play of Erik Gustafsson (18:12) and both special teams units (20:16). Plus, the debut of “Checkpoint Charlie," where Charlie gives us a taste of life on the road and his encounter with Chris Rock’s brother (29:00).

Listen here or in the embedded player below. 


Blackhawks Talk Podcast


Jeremy Colliton explains schematic change and why Blackhawks made it

Jeremy Colliton explains schematic change and why Blackhawks made it

The Blackhawks made a schematic change after their four-game road trip and they've seen the benefits of it immediately. They're 2-0-1 in their past three games and have scored 12 goals over that stretch.

We broke down on Monday what changes were made systematically and how it has freed up the offense, but head coach Jeremy Colliton elaborated on it Tuesday and explained the reasoning behind the decision.

"All it is is, our weak side forward, we pushed him up higher in defensive zone coverage," Colliton said. "Before, we had four low a lot of times, to try and overload in certain situations. That's good, it gets you out of D-zone, but the problem is when you win the puck back, a lot of times you're very close together and it's harder to make clean plays, it's harder to exit with space to make plays. So we were having trouble entering the zone.

"There's been a lot of talk about how we have been dumping too many pucks in. Well, we're not trying to dump the puck in, but when you're attacking and you don't have numbers, you don't have space in behind, you have to, you're forced too. I think we're doing a much better job of getting from D-zone clean, because we have a forward a little bit higher, there's a little more space, it happens quicker. And then I think we've done a good job with the low three [of] someone jumping by and then we can create a little bit more space off the rush and we don't have to chip it in. We can enter clean, make some plays and I think the guys are doing very well."

Patrick Kane, who has erupted for seven points (four goals, three assists) in the past three games since the change, sees the change opening up more opportunities for the Blackhawks on offense.

"I think a lot of us probably stressed that there wasn't as much flow to it, for whatever reason that was," Kane said. "They made a change and all of a sudden it seems like we have more options coming out of our end, we have more motion, more speed coming out of our end, which is always a good thing."

The Blackhawks' dump-in rate, as Colliton noted, has been much higher this season and it’s noteworthy because they generated a lot of their offense off the rush last season from mid-December and on. But what we didn’t know was the exact reason why the Blackhawks altered the way they entered the offensive zone.

Aside from the obvious answer of cutting down on neutral zone turnovers and limiting the amount of odd-man rushes against, Colliton notes the Blackhawks were forced to dump it in more because they weren’t entering the zone with numbers. The defensive scheme didn’t really allow them to.

But with the recent fundamental change, the Blackhawks have more options to exit their own zone cleanly, pick up speed through the neutral zone and do what they do best: by carrying the puck in and having more freedom to create offense. It’s something the coaching staff and players discussed with each other, and the consensus is it will maximize the talent of this group.

"We kind of felt it was time," Colliton said. "I mean, we're always talking with them for sure and guys, they want to score more. They want to produce, guys want to make plays. And so we're just trying to find the balance. We want to continue to work on being good defensively, but we've got to score more than them. I think we can still hold onto those defensive gains we've made and score more goals."

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