Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews to sit out regular-season finale against the Red WingsContinue reading.
Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews out for the rest of the regular season
By Mark Lazerus
If this were the playoffs, or if the next six games meant more than just an outside chance at home-ice advantage for a first-round series, Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville might be making a different decision. Hell, he might not even have a decision to make.
“Knowing Jonny Toews?” Quenneville said. “No chance he’d be out of the game.”
But this isn’t the playoffs. And the next six games aren’t nearly as crucial as the four to 28 that follow them. So whether Toews has a hangnail or a hanging arm — the official diagnosis is “upper-body injury” — shutting him down for the rest of the regular season was a no-brainer.
“He’s going to be 100 percent for the playoffs,” Quenneville said after Wednesday’s practice at Johnny’s IceHouse West. “We’re not going to play him for the rest of these six games, so he’ll be ready to go.”
Toews appeared to injure his left shoulder or arm when Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik drilled him into the boards Sunday night at Consol Energy Center. He skated slowly off the ice, clutching his left arm.
So the Hawks will play the final two weeks of the regular season without their two biggest stars, Toews and Patrick Kane. Kane suffered an apparent knee injury on March 19 and is expected back for the playoffs, as well (Quenneville said he should resume skating in the next couple of days). The Hawks are three points behind the Colorado Avalanche — their almost certain first-round opponent — in the Central Division, and Colorado has a game in hand in the race for home-ice advantage.
So the focus now shifts not to the playoff push, but the playoffs themselves. And Quenneville isn’t concerned about his top guys being rusty when they come back. Given the borderline ridiculous amount of hockey Toews and Kane have played since January of last season — a 48-game regular season, a 23-game run to the Stanley Cup, then a nearly full compressed season plus the Olympics — the injuries could prove beneficial in the long run.
“I don’t call it rusty, I call it energized,” Quenneville said. “Fresh. They’ve played a lot of hockey, so we’re looking at the bright side of things. These guys are going to be fresh and excited about playing.”
While their top two lines have been crippled by the injuries, the Hawks at least are getting healthier elsewhere. Bryan Bickell will return to the lineup Thursday night against Minnesota after missing six straight games with an upper-body injury. And defenseman Michal Rozsival practiced with his teammates for the first time since suffering a lower-body injury. He’ll miss his ninth straight game Thursday, but didn’t rule out playing Friday in Columbus.
The Hawks also recalled center Joakim Nordstrom to help fill the massive hole in the middle left by Toews. Nordstrom had just one goal and one assists in 10 games with the Hawks early this season, but had 17 goals and 16 assists in 58 games with Rockford. He also can help fill the void Toews leaves on the penalty kill.
Andrew Shaw will move up to the top line in the meantime, and versatile wingers such as Patrick Sharp, Brandon Saad, Ben Smith and Kris Versteeg can chip in on faceoffs.
The Hawks are a on a three-game losing skid, and have lost four of five to slip into third place. But the standings have become less important than the big picture — getting healthy for the playoffs, and a defense of their Stanley Cup championship.
“Of course, we want him on the ice,” center Marcus Kruger said. “But now the situation is like it is, and other guys need to step up. We need to get on the winning side of things, and try to find our game.”