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updated: 9/30/2017 8:13 PM

Chicago Blackhawks' bounce-back begins with Toews

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  • Chicago Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews chases the puck during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Detroit Red Wings, Thursday, Sept. 28,2017, in Detroit.

    Chicago Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews chases the puck during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Detroit Red Wings, Thursday, Sept. 28,2017, in Detroit.

 
 

Never in a million years are we going to confuse Jonathan Toews with Jimmy Fallon, Jerry Seinfeld, Kevin Hart or Carrot Top.

But the Chicago Blackhawks' captain has become more accustomed to working in a one-liner or two during interviews in recent years.

And after watching Brandon Saad score 3 goals and Richard Panik record 2 assists in a preseason victory over Detroit on Sept. 21, Toews hit us up with this doozy about his linemates two days later:

"Nice to see what they can do without me. Maybe I'll take a few more nights off and let Saader and Panner do their thing."

LOL!

Good stuff.

What has NOT been a laughing matter the past two seasons -- and especially in the playoffs -- is Toews' offensive production.

So today, as we begin a series that looks at who needs to step up for the Blackhawks to become the team it was not that long ago, we go to the most obvious place: captain Jonathan Toews.

Let's start with this -- we all know what Toews brings to the table. Reliable, strong defender. Positionally aware. Wins a ton of faceoffs. A leader in the room. A voice of reason. And on and on.

But offensively Toews has been like a rudderless boat, weaving aimlessly on 30 different NHL ponds since Saad was traded to Columbus after the 2015 season.

Toews has just 23 goals in 5-on-5 play the last two seasons, which pales in comparison to other prominent players around the NHL, including Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby (44), San Jose's Joe Pavelski (41), the Islanders' John Tavares (38), Dallas' Tyler Seguin (37), Edmonton's Connor McDavid (33) and Anaheim's Corey Perry (33).

Hawks teammates Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin had 48 and 34, respectively, while Ryan Hartman had 18 just last season.

And it's not just the regular season where Toews has been quiet; he has just 1 goal in the Hawks' last 13 postseason games.

Toews has heard the criticism and is vowing to step up his offensive game.

"I don't think it's been that bad," he said of the last two years. "But at the end of the day, when you're not producing, when you're not getting the things you kind of hope for, you've got to learn from it. For me, it's been a learning experience.

"There's always going to be new challenges coming your way and hopefully I've grown as a player and as a person. I'm excited to play hockey again and to be a more effective contributor -- especially on the offensive side for this team."

Toews has indicated that part of growing as a player means staying calm when things go wrong.

In other words, no more banging the stick against the glass, scowling on the bench or muttering under his breath. That kind of leave-it-behind-you attitude is one of the things he admired about Marian Hossa's approach to the game.

The question is, can Toews pull off the equivalent of a personality change 11 years into his NHL career?

"It's not my nature, obviously," Toews said. "But I think sometimes I can't let little mistakes … translate into something bigger than it really is. You've just got to put bad shifts behind you, move past it, keep playing and enjoy the game."

That ought to be a lot easier skating with Saad and Richard Panik. All three players have looked solid this preseason, with Panik perhaps sticking out the most.

A combined 60, 70 or even 80 goals hardly seems out of the question for a line that opponents are going to have an awfully tough time matching up with.

"I look at the potential of that line -- the production coming from down-low plays, 5-on-5 plays, off the rush -- I see them having the puck a lot," Quenneville said. "It'd be nice to see a little competition from your top two lines to see who will be the most productive."

Now that would be interesting.

Because if Toews, Saad and Panik could outpoint Kane, Nick Schmaltz and Patrick Sharp/Alex DeBrincat, the Hawks might just be laughing all the way to another Stanley Cup.

• Twitter: johndietzdh

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