Top Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews felt good Monday while practicing in Chicago. So did his running mate Patrick Kane.
So the Blackhawks should be back to full strength for Game 1 of their playoff series with the St. Louis Blues, who will only get some of their key players back by Thursday.
“I don't think you ever want to miss any games, but if you do on the one side you can try and rest up and be as mentally ready for the playoffs as you can,” Toews told Chicago reporters. “At the same time, I don't feel like I lost anything. It was only a short while to be away from playing the games.
“I think for anyone who's been playing right until the end of the season, it's going to be an adjustment with the speed of the playoffs, so everyone's going to have to step it up a little bit. I think we'll all be excited, especially myself in Game 1. Hopefully that energy and that excitement can carry me through and get me enough to play my best, I guess.”
Toews was out with an upper-body injury suffered on a big hit from Pittsburgh defenseman Brooks Orpik. Kane has been sidelined with a lower-body injury suffered against the Blues.
“I've had some time to rest my injury, obviously, the right amount of time, and with anything you want to make sure you're feeling good coming back,” Kane told reporters. “I think that's where I'm at right now. It'll be nice to get a couple skates with the team tomorrow and Wednesday and the pregame skate Thursday and get ready to go.”
The Chicago Blackhawks have been playing without top winger Patrick Kane. He went down March 19 against the St. Louis Blues and is working to get back for postseason play.
Also, top center Jonathan Toews suffered an upper-body injury in Sunday’s game against at Pittsburgh. He took a big hit from Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik and left the ice holding his arm.
Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said Toews suffered a minor upper-body injury and is considered “day-to-day” at this point.
“We'll get a better assessment tomorrow,” Quenneville told reporters after the game. “This time of the year we want to make sure he gets better and fresh; whether he gets a break or not we’ll see.”
In his Kane’s absence, the Blackhawks lost three of their first five games. Opponents outscored them 11-5 in five-on-five scenarios. Chicago suffered two shutouts in that span.
Prior to that, ESPN Chicago notes, the Blackhawks outscored their opponents 20-13 in 5-on-5 situations during the first 10 games since the Olympic break.
Kane is just that important to the Blackhawks. He is one of those rare forwards who can make everybody playing with him better.
Toews’ absence would only compound those issues. “Whenever you lose players, someone has to step up and take the spot,” forward Patrick Sharp told reporters. “In the case of those two guys, it’s tough to replace them.”
The Blackhawks have won just four times in their last 16 games. General manager Stan Bowman added but one player at the trade deadline, defenseman Johnny Oduya.
Top center Jonathan Toews is still injured, apparently with a concussion. He hasn't resumed skating and may not for some time.
So it’s up to coach Joel Quenneville to guide Chicago back on a winning track for the final quarter of the season.
Oduya’s arrival should help somewhat. His assignment is to alleviate the pressure on younger puck-moving defensemen Nick Leddy and Dylan Olsen.
“We think that his style really fits in what we do here in terms of his ability to skate,” Bowman told the Chicago media. “He’s one of the better skating defenseman in the NHL. He’s got a lot of experience.”
Blackhawks rookies Jimmy Hayes, Andrew Shaw and Brandon Bollig will have to make an impact too.
“We need everybody here,” Quenneville said, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. “We have a tough road ahead of us here, a lot of challenges. We have a lot of rookies or young players right now and we’re going to be asking a lot from them, but they’ve proven through this year they can help us a lot of ways.”
For the record, the Blackhawks have expressed much confidence to Windy City reporters. Here is a sampling of their thoughts:
Patrick Kane: "With our group in here we can feel confident with where we are, especially once we get over the injury bug a little bit. You put a full lineup in with our team and we're going to be tough to beat. Obviously that's not where we're at right now so some guys are going to have to step up and try to take over a little bit. It's a good team in here, a good bunch of guys. We feel we have a chance to do some special things. It's going to be fun going forward.”
Brent Seabrook: “It’s always good to add a guy that can help you out in that way. [Oduya] can play some big minutes, some tough minutes. It’s going to be good for us.”
Patrick Sharp: “This is our team and you can feel good about that. We can move forward together, there is no doubt and no question in our minds. It's just a matter of performing on the ice. We have 18 games left. Looking at the schedule, it's going to be a battle to get in (the playoffs), and we're ready for the challenge.”
Jamal Mayers: “We just need to play smart and hard,” Mayers said. “We know we have the people in this room to do it.”
OK, so why can’t the once-mighty Chicago Blackhawks win a hockey game?
Goaltenders Corey Crawford and Ray Emery have struggled. The team defense has been surprisingly mistake-prone for a Joel Quenneville-coached squad.
Their top scorers have scuffled, which his way the Blackhawks rank just 17th in power-play efficiency after ranking fourth last season.
And now the losing appears to be getting to the players. The Blackhawks carry a nine-game losing streak into tonight’s game against the torrid Rangers in New York.
Listen to what the Blackhawks were saying to the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Sun-Times and ESPN Chicago in the wake their loss at Nashville:
Patrick Kane: “It's tough not to think about it, especially when it's to this extent of nine games. We're trying to look at the positives right now . . . It’s definitely not fun for us. You can definitely take it personally and try to do everything you can to help the team out of it. I think a lot of us, we know our top guys are going to have to produce for us to start winning games, which is fine. You want that pressure on you. You want to be able to be the man when that time comes . . . For all of us, we know what a fun feeling it's going to be once we win a game.”
Patrick Sharp: “That's a topic of conversation all the time. It’s not like you punch in at the rink and you go home and you're clear mentally. That would be the ultimate goal, but we take our jobs seriously. We want to win and everyone is concerned away from the rink. I'm one of those guys who thinks about hockey all the time, whether it's going good or bad, so it makes it much more different when things aren't going well.”
Jonathan Toews: “There's a moment every day that we remind each other we're teammates, we're friends, we're family and we're going to pull through it together. We're not holding any of this bad luck or discouraging things against each other. The biggest thing is something has to give, something has to go our way eventually. As they say, if you keep doing the right things, the hockey gods will reward you. We're just hoping it's going to happen soon.”
Quenneville: “We’re all facing something we probably haven’t experienced much or ever. As a group, that’s a different challenge, we’ve had that success . . . This adversity is going to make you better. Nobody is going to feel sorry for you. As a coach you want to be hard on guys and there’s times where you have to be supportive. I think right now we want to be supportive and encouraging. That’s kind of the way I am right now.”
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