Toews’ bounce-back season helps the Blackhawks get off to a surprising start
CHICAGO — Jonathan Toews looks more like him these days.
The Chicago Blackhawks captain leads the team with seven goals, is playing good minutes and winning faceoffs.
Is he playing his best hockey right now?
“No,” Toews said with a smile.
Other than that, the 34-year-old forward is pretty happy with where his game is. Toews’ rebounding has been a welcome sight for the Blackhawks (6-7-3), who are off to a good start in a rebuilding season.
Toews has come a long way from missing the 2020-21 season with Chronic Immune Response Syndrome and then finishing with 12 goals and 37 points in 71 games last season, each the lowest totals of his 15-season career in the NHL.
In 16 games this season, Toews’ 10 points (seven goals, three assists) are third on the Blackhawks. Toews is averaging 17:10 of ice time per game, third among Blackhawks forwards after Patrick Kane (19:51) i Max Domi (18:09).
“I think right now I feel like I’m getting better and closer and closer to playing the game at a high level and at a level that maybe I haven’t reached before because of the experience I’ve had throughout my career “, he said.
After winning 18 of 23 matches in a 5-2 loss to St. Louis Blues Wednesday, Toews has hit 65.4 percent this season; his best success rate in a season is 59.1 percent, in 2012-13.
“He’s working hard, keeping his shifts short,” Blackhawks coach Luke Richardson said. “He knows I rely on him sometimes for defensive zone matchups, especially late in games, one-goal games. We’ve got to count on him. He’s really excited to get back to playing and feeling healthy again.
“I count on him a lot. I know the team does and I think he expects a lot from himself. There’s a lot of things that make him what he is, and he’s been the leader so far. So it’s great to see. “
defender Connor Murphy He was often there to watch Toews practice this offseason and said the center is back to his usual form.
“He skated a ton, probably more than anyone else, doing conditioning skates on the ice,” Murphy said.
“Watching him be himself in net, he seems to get all those goals [there]. It’s hard for guys to defend him. He has a strong, wide base and knows how to time plays to get to the net and get those plays.
“I like [on his overtime goal against the Los Angeles Kings on Nov. 3], it wasn’t a backdoor, but it was time to learn how to maneuver through the slot and crease to get pucks. Many of the best scorers in the League are like that, they know how to find the soft areas to be able to score those goals.”
Even for someone as confident as Toews, he wasn’t sure he could ever be the player he wanted to be again because of his health issues.
“There were definitely moments of doubt like that, but you just work through them,” he said. “I think it’s just learning a new level of patience and understanding the new challenge ahead of you. It gives you a new appreciation for your health and your body and what you can do for a living. You really love and t ‘you appreciate. that.”
Toews said it’s also been a more enjoyable season with the Blackhawks playing solid hockey under Richardson. Their sixth win of the season came in their 14th game as they defeated the Anaheim Ducks 3-2 on Saturday. Last season, Chicago lost its first nine games (0-7-2) and coach Jeremy Colliton was fired 12 games into the season. The Blackhawks didn’t get their sixth win until their 18th game.
“I think it’s always encouraging when all five guys on the ice are playing great hockey together, and we’ve won some games, we’ve got some confidence, we’re building chemistry as a team,” Toews said. “There were situations last year where it felt like chaos and everyone was trying so hard, guys were going in the wrong direction and no one was really complementing each other. That can wear you down really well as well, so I think it’s always a boost of energy when everyone’s on the same page and playing hockey together. It’s a lot easier.”
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