There's a lot of talk going into Game 1 between the Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks surrounding whether or not Viktor Stalberg would find a seat in the press box after a lackluster first-round series. What that discussion seems to gloss over is just how poorly Hawks captain Jonathan Toews produced offensively in the series against the Minnesota Wild.
The numbers on that end of the ice do not lie. He ended up getting no goals and two assists in the series, and it’s even more surprising to note that both of his assists came in Game 5, meaning he had zero points through the first four games of the series.
This comes in spite of the fact that Toews started 58 percent of his shifts in the offensive zone. That is a far cry from the fourth line, which clocks in at about a third of its shifts beginning in the offensive zone, but the number isn’t quite as bad as it appears without some more context.
That context comes in the form of players like Stalberg and Patrick Sharp. Stalberg, who also had only one point in the series against the Wild, started a mind-boggling 80 percent of his shifts in the offensive zone. Sharp, thanks to his 65 percent offensive zone starting percentage, had a monster series, scoring five times and adding in an assist to lead the team in scoring with six points.
The Toews line, along with Marian Hossa and Brandon Saad, started the second fewest possessions in the offensive zone out of the team’s four lines, and as such it can reasonably be expected that they would suffer a bit more in the point-scoring department. The Toews line also had to contend repeatedly with Minnesota defenseman Ryan Suter in the series, who proved why he is a serious Norris Trophy contender with his play. The other Hawks lines didn’t have to deal with him as frequently, and as such they were in a better position to succeed.
Toews also played very well on the defensive side of the puck. Long regarded as one of the best two-way players in the NHL, Toews proved it in the Minnesota series, racking up the best relative Corsi among the team’s forwards and only finishing behind defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson in the category. Corsi, for those not familiar with advanced hockey statistics, is a measure of how many more shots a player helps generate while on the ice and is expressed as a rate statistic over 60 minutes. Toews had an outstanding 34.99 on-ice Corsi in the series against the Wild, meaning that if he had played an entire 60-minute game, the Blackhawks would have outshot the Wild by 35 shots or so. That is an incredible number and a testament to how effectively he was able to shut down the opposing team defensively.
So before fans start to question where the heat is for Toews not producing offensively, they need to keep in mind that his production doesn’t start and stop with how many pucks he puts in the net.
Yes, Toews will be the first to tell you that it burns him not to be scoring, but when push comes to shove, he has bigger responsibilities as the best defensive forward on the team, and against players like Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, he is going to need to keep that in mind.