By Steve Silverman-
(CBS) It is no longer a shrug-your-shoulders matter.
Jonathan Toews has a big, fat zero in the goals scored column.
Toews has been kept off the scoreboard through the Blackhawks’ first eight games of the playoffs.
It was a trivial matter in the first round against the Minnesota Wild, who were dispatched with ease in five games. But there’s nothing cute or funny about it any longer as Blackhawks find themselves on the short end of a 2-1 margin in the second round against the Detroit Red Wings.
The deficit that the Blackhawks face is not fatal. It may feel sickening after watching the Red Wings score two goals 31 seconds apart in the second period Monday night, but great teams overcome those kind of deficits regularly in the playoffs.
Winning in Detroit should not be a difficult task. The Blackhawks were 4-0 in the regular season against the Red Wings and 2-0 in Joe Louis Arena.
There should be no panic. There should be plenty of urgency.
It’s up to Toews to provide the leadership. In this case, leadership means scoring goals. If you look at Toews’ line in the postseason, he is winning 57.6 percent of his face-offs and he is averaging 20:53 of ice time per game. He remains a stalwart defensive player.
But in the scoring column, Toews has been limited to three assists. That total has Toews tied for seventh on the team in scoring with the likes of Johnny Oduya, Marcus Kruger, Michael Frolik and Michal Handzus.
Toews is not the only star in these playoffs who is going through the pain of a dry spell at the worst possible time of year.
If the Blackhawks survive this round of the playoffs, they are quite likely to meet the Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference Finals. Anze Kopitar is almost certainly the Kings’ most talented offensive player and an explosive scorer. Kopitar has one goal and three assists through the Kings’ first eight games of the playoffs.
Like Toews, Kopitar is off his game and it has to be concerning to Kings head coach Darryl Sutter. Los Angeles is not as explosive as Chicago, and if Kopitar does not pick it up soon it’s going to become an issue for the defending champions.
The New York Rangers added Rick Nash last summer because general manager Glen Sather thought the team’s missing ingredient was a top-of-the-line goal scorer. Nash scored 21 goals during the truncated regular season, but he didn’t score his first goal in the playoffs until the Rangers ninth game of the playoffs.
Unlike Toews, the hulking Nash tends to stay to the outside and rarely ventures into the dirty areas of the ice where goal-scoring opportunities have to be earned. That’s a big problem for the Rangers, who have dropped the first two games of their conference semifinal series to the Boston Bruins.
Despite their lead in that series, the Bruins have star problems of their own. Neither Jaromir Jagr nor Tyler Seguin have scored a goal in the playoffs. Jagr, 41, can still lug the puck and keep defensemen at bay, but when it comes to turning opportunities into goals, he looks a half-second too slow.
Seguin is probably the Bruins’ most gifted player, but he has been treating the puck as if it were a hand grenade during the postseason. It seems that any time he takes a pass that could set up a scoring opportunity, the puck explodes off his stick and slithers away from him. He has one assist in nine playoff games.
It’s not that Seguin, Kopitar and Toews are not working hard. However, they are not producing.
Toews no longer has time to work out his problems. His team has fallen behind and one more loss will mark the situation as critical.
That’s not supposed to happen against a team that barely made the playoffs.
Toews has been as consistent as any player in the league for the large majority of his six-year career. It’s time for him to play up to that level starting in Game 4 against the Red Wings.
Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman was with Pro Football Weekly for 10 years and his byline has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Playboy, NFL.com and The Sporting News. He is the author of four books, including Who’s Better, Who’s Best in Football — The Top 60 Players of All-Time. Follow him on Twitter (@profootballboy) and read more of his CBS Chicago columns here.