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Jonathan Toews — mired in a 20-game goal-scoring drought — took a rare day off from practice. Is the Chicago Blackhawks center’s workload affecting his offense?

Chicago Tribune
Chicago Tribune
 2021-11-27
https://img.particlenews.com/image.php?url=0b6hwD_0d8BIGfm00
Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews (19) looks for the puck in the first period of a game against the Maple Leafs on Oct. 27 at the United Center. Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune

Jonathan Toews did an unusual thing Saturday: He took a break.

The Chicago Blackhawks center took a maintenance day while teammates practiced at Fifth Third Arena, his first such day this month after taking three in October.

“He’s been around, he knows his body,” interim coach Derek King said. “I just had a conversation with him, and I know he tires. “I just said, if you need a maintenance day just let me know or I’ll come to you and tell you stay off the ice.

“We talked yesterday (Friday) after the (St. Louis Blues) game, and I decided with him it’s best he stay off the ice, get some rest and recharge the batteries and be ready to go against San Jose” on Sunday.

For Toews, who has Chronic Immune Response Syndrome, his health and energy levels need to be monitored constantly, but he has been handling almost the same workload as two seasons ago.

In 2019-20, he averaged 19 minutes, 47 seconds. After missing last season with CIRS — he also said he tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies —his average ice time is down more than a minute to 18:04.

But Toews still works in all phases of the game, centering one of the top lines and pitching in on the top power-play and penalty-kill units.

King recently shuffled the lines and has Toews working alongside Patrick Kane and Brandon Hagel, which means heavy-duty offense. And Toews has shown no drop-off on faceoffs — he’s still winning at a 57% clip.

Certainly the Hawks have needed him, but King has become mindful that Toews’ availability has limits. It’s not just the wear-and-tear of games but practices and morning skates with few team off days in between.

“Yeah, I need to pull him back,” King said. “He’s not going to pull himself back. He’ll go on the ice with broken legs and arms. He’ll just keep going until someone comes to him.

“He has a lot of pride, he works hard, he’s our leader and he doesn’t want to be taking days off just because of minor things. But he’s playing lots of minutes, probably more than he’s probably used to as of late, and I have to put the kibosh on him going out on the ice.”

King didn’t seem to be suggesting sitting Toews for an occasional game , but perhaps lightening his load among his multitude of duties — even for a game or two — could help Toews’ longevity for the season or be the key to breaking his scoring drought.

He has yet to score a goal in 20 games, by far the longest stretch of his career, and certain numbers suggest something is off, perhaps fatigue or some drastic change in his usage.

Four seasons ago, he averaged 4.6 total shot attempts (on goal and misses) — and he averaged more than four his next two seasons — but he has put up just 2.7 per game this season.

And Toews shots-through percentage — shots that make it on goal — on the power play is at an all-time high of 76.5%, but for 5-on-5 it’s at a career low of 54.8%.

After Tuesday’s loss to the Calgary Flames, Toews assessed his play, saying: “I’m definitely not satisfied or happy with where it’s at. (I’ve) just got to keep working and stay patient and try to build up more energy, more pace, more speed on the ice.”

On Friday, Toews assisted on Brandon Hagel’s tying goal that sent the game to overtime, and the Hawks went on to beat the Blues 3-2 at the United Center.

“Missing out on a year for anyone, that’s tough,” Hagel said. “The way he’s handled it and the way he still picks up the team between periods, it seems like he has a ton of energy and he uses every last bit of it on the team ... whether it’s on the bench or between periods or on the ice. Obviously he has a big role.

“We’re always there to support him and get him up when he needs it. But when you miss a full year of hockey, it’s going to take a little bit of time and toll on you. But he’s handled it well.”

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