Here’s what you’ve got to love about Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews. It shows in his response to the second postgame question, after the Blackhawks opened the Western Conference playoff series with a 3-1 victory over the Los Angeles Kings.
Toews surveyed the crowd of reporters (up substantially from Chicago’s previous round versus Minnesota) before remarking: “I should prepare more for these press conferences and interviews so I’ve got something original and creative to say.”
As if that’s necessary anymore.
On Tuesday, Toews, 26, had everybody in stitches again when asked if he enjoys the challenge presented by a goalie of Jonathan Quick’s pedigree.
“I’d rather go against a goaltender who lets in more goals than that,” he deadpanned, proving that Captain Serious has come out of his shell since his first years with the Blackhawks.
In Game 1, Toews had been in the middle of everything. There was his controversial disallowed goal in the second period that turned the momentum of the game for a time; and then he scored the insurance goal with four minutes left that put the game away for the Blackhawks.
He was also a dominant force at the Sochi Winter Olympics for Canada’s 2014 gold-medal winners, resolutely confident in the team’s ability to win by playing a defence-first style, even as doubts about their goal-scoring abilities crept up.
As a result, Toews was unwittingly involved in an interesting Twitter tempest last week, over the matter of whether he is a more complete player than the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Sidney Crosby. Toews didn’t get much MVP notice this season because he doesn’t score at the same pace as Crosby. And on a Blackhawks team that features the effervescent Patrick Kane, Toews shares the spotlight with a different sort of player, but one who also keeps showing up at critical moments in deciding games.
Toews is, however, a Frank J. Selke Trophy finalist again this year, nominated along with the Kings’ Anze Kopitar and Boston Bruins’ centre Patrice Bergeron for the best defensive forward award.
In many respects, the Selke has morphed into something different from when the NHL first introduced it in 1978-79 and for years voters annually awarded it to the Montreal Canadiens’ Bob Gainey. Nowadays, the Selke tends to go to players with complete games, who contribute at both ends of the rink. They need to be defensively responsible, decent penalty killers, good in the faceoff circle and fit enough to play a 200-foot game. Oh, and if they happen to be point-a-game players, that helps too.
“The Hart [Memorial] Trophy, those guys are usually up in the top-five in scoring, and that’s great,” said the Kings’ Jarret Stoll. “That helps win games, too. But I think putting the whole package together helps the overall team game – and the overall team game is what wins in the playoffs. It’s what gets you in the playoffs and what helps you move on.”
As Stoll noted, the Selke may not have the same cachet as the Hart, but the candidates tend to be greatly appreciated by their coaches and teammates. For going on two years, the Kings’ Darryl Sutter has described Kopitar as the best centre he’s ever coached. And Toews? Simply the best two-way player in the business, according to Sutter.
Toews says he gained an appreciation for the complete game “in my high school and college years. It just came from being a competitive player and just wanting to win games at whatever cost.”
As for the best way to keep Kopitar off the scoresheet, Toews believes that involves keeping the Kings penned in their own zone, and forcing them to play defence. “But easier said than done,” said Toews. “He’s good on draws. He’s tough to defend, especially in the offensive zone. He’s big and strong and protects the puck well, and he’s got good vision. He knows where to find his linemates, even if he’s got his back to the play.”
Kings defenceman Drew Doughty, who played on the Canadian Olympic team alongside Toews in both 2010 and 2014, suggested Toews’s heart is what separates him from other NHLers.
“Skill-wise, he’s got it all,” said Doughty. “I think where I really struggle when I play against him, or where I really have to be aware of him, is on the defensive end. When he’s fore-checking me, I can’t really be making passes by him; he’s going to be knocking those down. He’s so good with his stick. Then in the corners, on the fore-check, he’s good, making turnovers and taking them to the net. I think that’s really where he’s tough to play against – when he’s on the defensive end and I have the puck.”
The matchup against Kopitar went mostly Toews’s way in the opener, but in Game 2 here Wednesday night, the coaches seem willing to let them go head to head again, and may the best man win. Who would want it any other way?