Is Blackhawks' Toews really struggling? Numbers show signs of hope

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews plays against the Blues on Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021, in St. Louis. Toews hasn't scored a goal yet this season.

    Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews plays against the Blues on Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021, in St. Louis. Toews hasn't scored a goal yet this season. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 11/15/2021 6:32 AM

As Jonathan Toews was wrapping up his postgame presser after the Blackhawks' 2-1 victory over Arizona on Friday, three questions were posed about the state of his game.

His answers comprised of 29 words -- in total.

 

• How do you feel about your game? "Not terrible. But room for improvement, obviously."

• What would you like to improve? "Everything."

• The fact you haven't scored a goal yet -- does that bother you at all? "I mean it doesn't bother me. But, you know, I'd like to do something about it one of these days here."

Look, there's nothing strange about guys not wanting to talk about their own play. Even after someone records a hat trick, dishes out 4 assists or makes 40 saves, the guy almost always directs praise toward his teammates.

When someone's struggling, though, they'll often provide more a detailed explanation of what's wrong.

(Quick sidebar: This is where we really miss being able to get into the locker rooms. Players seem much more relaxed in front of their stalls when only a few tape recorders are rolling.)

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So here's the big question: Is Toews (who does have 8 assists) actually struggling?

Offensively, the answer seems obvious: Yes. Not only is Toews in the longest regular-season goal-scoring drought of his career at 18 games (three came at end of 2019-20 season), but:

• He's pace for only 213 total shot attempts and 159 shots on goal. His previous low in shot attempts (minimum 70 games played) is 278 and lowest SOG is 179.

• He's averaging a career-low 18 minutes and eight seconds of ice time.

Dig into the weeds a bit, though, and there are some hopeful signs.

For example, Toews' Corsi% of 50.81 and scoring-chance percentage of 50 are both second best on the Hawks behind Brandon Hagel. (Scoring chance percentage is number of chances allowed vs. scoring chances for the Hawks at even strength).

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Those numbers have suffered over the last week, but that's because Nashville, Pittsburgh and Arizona were all trying to overcome deficits.

New coach Derek King said he "had a good chat" with Toews during Saturday's practice at Fifth Third Arena.

"He puts a lot of pressure on himself," King said. "He has high standards. There's a reason why he's won those Cups and he's been on Team Canadas and World Juniors and he's the captain of your team.

"He's a very focused guy. ... I wish I was like that when I played. I might have had a couple more extra goals here. But he's fine."

One area where that definitely remains true is in the faceoff dot as Toews' 60.5% ranks seventh through Saturday's games. His power-play faceoff percentage of 67.5 ranks sixth, while his penalty kill percentage of 47.7 ranks 28th out of 52 qualifying players.

"I've had some good centermens on my teams ... and it's a luxury," King said. "He's special at that. We've just got to get all the other guys that special."

Toews' next chance to snap his goal drought will come against the Seattle Kraken (4-10-1) when the Hawks travel to play their first game against the expansion team Wednesday. The Hawks then play at Edmonton (11-3-0), Vancouver (5-9-2) and Calgary (8-3-4) before returning home to host St. Louis (8-4-2) the day after Thanksgiving.

By then, you have to figure Toews will be giving thanks for his first goal -- or two. Either way, King just wants his captain to focus on his overall game.

"This is something I learned when I was a player -- if you weren't getting your goals or your assists -- you've got to play the game without the puck," King said. "And I think he does a great with that. He plays both ends of the ice.

"He's penalty kill and he's power play. He's doing a good job. Does it show on the scoresheet every night? No. (Not) that way. But if you sat and watched breakdowns and videos for him, he's doing all those little things we ask all our players to do, and he's doing them to a T."

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