Rozner: Blackhawks' Toews hot, but not changed
Suddenly, Jonathan Toews has a lot of friends again.
He's so popular these days it's as if he won the lottery -- or got his hands on Cubs playoff tickets.
Out of the woodwork have come the masses to universally praise the Blackhawks captain now that he has 24 points in his past 14 games, tops in the NHL since Jan. 22.
So what's changed with Jonathan Toews?
With national TV in town Sunday night, that question was asked of just about everyone in and around the Hawks. There was a thirst to dig deep, to find the change in his game, the difference in his attitude.
What could be this mysterious answer?
It is, of course, nothing.
Toews is Toews, just as he always is, just as he always has been, just as he was in early January when I actually had to defend him on the radio against the suggestion that Toews did not have top-line NHL skill anymore.
For the love of Dave Feamster and all that's holy, what sport are you watching when you think Toews isn't as skilled as the best players in the game?
Before the middle of January, yes Toews was struggling on the score sheet, but his game was still the same.
He was changing linemates nearly every game and sometimes period to period, and some of them had no business being in the same building.
So yeah, his point total suffered. And maybe he started squeezing the stick a bit. Puck luck is always harder to find the more you try to find it.
But Toews didn't change. He still played 200 feet, did his job as captain and made sure to think defense first, sacrificing offensive chances for defensive responsibility.
Always, defense first.
It's at a moment like that when people forget he won the Conn Smythe in 2010, leading the Hawks with 29 points in 22 games.
They forget that "17 seconds" doesn't occur in 2013 without the first of those two goals, a Bryan Bickell two-foot putt after a perfect feather from Toews below the goal line.
They forget he had 5 goals and 7 points in 7 games during that brutal Anaheim series in 2015, when the Hawks trailed in the conference finals three times, with Toews scoring twice early in Game 7 on the road to lead the Hawks back to the Stanley Cup Final.
They forget, until they remember.
What have you done for me lately? No, what did you do for me on the last shift.
And then, suddenly, Toews is a big-game player who loves the big stage and the big moment.
Also wrong. Toews doesn't seek the limelight and live for the big moment, or want the big stage. He's simply not afraid of the limelight, the big moment and the big stage, and he feels a responsibility in the big moment and on the big stage to get the job done.
There's a significant difference.
He plays every shift like it's Game 7, digging in the corners, crashing the net and always -- always -- getting back to protect his own goal.
The essence of Toews is the goal he scored Sunday night to give the Hawks a 1-0 lead over the Blues, when he won a defensive zone faceoff and immediately retreated through his own crease to protect Scott Darling.
Toews was 70 feet behind the puck when Richard Panik took a pass and hit Nick Schmaltz on the far boards.
Toews, however, kept skating.
He busted down the right side and outskated three Blues into the zone, took a sweet pass from Schmaltz and embarrassed goalie Jake Allen with a backhand-forehand-backhand-forehand move at full speed.
You want effort, speed and skill on a single, 200-foot play? There were six Blues ahead of him when they play began.
Toews got them all.
Not overlooked on the play should be the pass across ice from Panik to Schmaltz and the sweet dish between a defender's skates from Schmaltz to a busting Toews in stride.
Yeah, it helps to have consistent linemates so the trio can develop some chemistry, but they also need the ability to finish, and both Panik and Schmaltz have been terrific the past month.
So now Toews is a hero again. It's laughable, really. If he goes a couple games without scoring, people will want to know where the highlights are again.
But Toews is not looking for the highlight reel and he's never going to lead the league in scoring because he's too busy protecting his goaltender and trying to collect rings.
The only trophy he's interested in is the one with the big silver bowl at the top.
So what's different now about Jonathan Toews?
The next time Joel Quenneville gets the question, you wouldn't blame him if he stared into the camera and before dropping the mic and walking offstage, said only this:
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