After the Chicago Blackhawks dispatched the Philadelphia Flyers in a 7-2 laugher last week, it was noted by several members of the media that captain Jonathan Toews had stopped taking faceoffs in the later stages of that game. The reason was that he had injured a couple of his fingers during the contest.
It’s not clear whether he broke the digits or whether they were just hurting, but this is how he described the decision to keep him out of the faceoff dot as the game wore on:
#Blackhawks Jonathan Toews on not taking faceoffs because of injured finger: "Just being precautious. That wasn’t a word, was it?"
— Chris Kuc (@ChrisKuc) December 12, 2013
Poor grammar notwithstanding, it was clear that Toews was ailing a bit. For a guy like him, not being able to grip a stick properly is a big deal, and it extends far beyond just hampering his ability to win faceoffs. Toews also is one of the most active backcheckers on the Blackhawks, and considering that he has to be able to use his stick when he’s trying to steal the puck from rushing offensive players, he needs to have full use of his fingers.
Apparently he had recovered nicely from the injury on Sunday night, because Toews had one of his best games of the season in the 3-1 triumph over the Los Angeles Kings at the United Center. He picked up the primary assists on Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp’s goals in the contest, and he made several key defensive plays that helped the Hawks to keep the Kings off balance.
The first of those came in the first period, when Toews went behind the Kings’ net with Jake Muzzin. Despite the Blackhawks being short-handed at that time, Toews still was ultra-aggressive on the play, and he ended up lifting Muzzin’s stick and stealing the puck to win the board battle. Then, he found Hossa camped out in front of the Kings’ net, and the veteran forward was able to flip the puck past Ben Scrivens to give Chicago the early 1-0 lead.
In the second period, Toews had another shining moment of defensive prowess. During a mad scramble in front of the Blackhawks’ net, Anze Kopitar got off two really good chances against Antti Raanta, and with the Hawks’ rookie goaltender diving around trying to make saves, he wasn’t able to control rebounds. Seeing this, Toews eventually got inside position on Kopitar, and as he tried to slap a third shot towards the net, Toews stopped his stick and pushed the puck away from the crease, ending the threat.
After Saturday’s clunker of an all-around effort by the Hawks, it can be argued that Toews took it upon himself to wake the team up, and they seemed to follow his lead with one of their best defensive efforts of the season. It was a big statement against a team that had won six games in a row, and the victory puts the Blackhawks in a nice spot as they face a daunting finish to the month of December.