By Adam Hess
The Chicago Blackhawks are got their captain back Tuesday night, as Jonathan Toews will return to their lineup after being out with a back injury for the past few weeks.
The Hawks have faired pretty well without Toews, still amassing several wins in his absence as other players on the team have stepped up to create offense for them.
Players like Ryan Hartman and Vinnie Hinostroza saw a deal of success while playing with Marian Hossa, who typically flanks Toews. Hartman has done so at such a level that he’s likely going to get a good look beside Toews and Hossa to see if adding the Hawks’ top center to that mix can help the young Hartman continue his strong rookie season.
Toews’ return is certainly a welcome one for the Hawks, as they’ve already been considered a team short on forward depth this season. Losing any mainstay in that forward group would be a hit to them to begin with, but having their top line center out for a good period of time was a major loss. Luckily for them, they were already in a good position in the standings to begin with, and have been able to maintain their first place status in the Central Division even with their captain out.
The next step for Toews and his Blackhawks is for ‘Captain Serious’ to become a serious offensive contributor for the team. While Toews’ has never been an elite scorer in the NHL, his start to this 2016-17 season has been decidedly slow and disappointing. In 21 appearances prior to his injury this year, Toews has found the back of the net just four times and added just eight assists.
In his Tuesday night return, he was held off the scoresheet in the Hawks’ 2-1 win over the Rangers in 18 minutes of ice-time. For a player with several 65-plus point seasons in the past, and who is coming off a 58 point year last season, to be on pace for less than 50 points is nothing shy of a major let down.
Toews is certainly capable of more on the offensive end, and there’s certainly a case that his back injury that held him out for the past few weeks had been lingering long before he took the time off, and was inhibiting his performance. Should that be the case, his caution in returning to the lineup too quickly is quite encouraging for the Hawks and their captain. Now that he feels ready to return, hopefully that will no longer be the case, and his offensive prowess will return as well.