By Adam Hoge-
UNITED CENTER (CBS) Jonathan Toews was frustrated.
Penalties, missed opportunities, bad decisions and yes, Henrik Zetterberg, had taken their toll on Toews, who rarely loses his cool.
But what do you do when the captain needs a captain?
Someone — anyone — needed to talk to him.
“It was after the third one. He looked frustrated,” defenseman Brent Seabrook said. “I don’t know if that was the reason for the penalties, I think there was a little bit of bad luck with his stick, but I just tried to call him down.”
Yes, it was Seabrook — who also has had his fair share of struggles in the last three games — who came over to the penalty box to talk some sense into Toews.
“We need him,” the defenseman said. “He’s the best player on the team and our leader and if the rest of the group sees him like that, it’s going to trickle down. So we need him to be focused and ready. I just told him to sit down, take a couple deep breaths and be ready to be back out there because we need him.”
At that moment, Toews had just taken three minor penalties in a row, with the second one resulting in the first power play goal the Blackhawks had allowed in 31 tries during the playoffs. That goal ended up being the difference in a 2-0 loss that gave the Red Wings a 3-1 advantage in the Western Conference Semifinals.
“I was looking to chat with him as well,” head coach Joel Quenneville admitted.
To put that sequence in perspective, Toews accrued only four total penalty minutes during the 2010 playoffs when the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup. Six minutes on three penalties back-to-back-to-back is unheard of for No. 19.
“I understand what happened in the second period wasn’t a good thing,” Toews said Friday. “I don’t attribute it to me losing my temper. Obviously I was a little careless with my stick and unfortunately it cost me and it cost our team. We’re looking to have that controlled emotion as a team.”
The frustration had been building throughout the series for Toews. He’s been bottled up and annoyed by Zetterberg almost every moment on the ice and he hasn’t scored a single goal during the entire postseason.
“I’m not as worried about him as maybe you guys think I should be,” Toews said, rightly adding that he’s had chances to score and simply hasn’t converted. “Eventually they have to go in.”
In between games, Toews has been saying all the right things and appears to remain positive. But on the ice, he’s been a player rarely seen throughout his career: a frustrated, struggling captain.
Naturally, that has led to panic amongst fans and is exactly why Seabrook felt the need to calm Toews down. Fan, player or neutral observer, you can’t help but notice when one of the steadiest players in the league is seemingly out of control on the ice.
“He hasn’t been able to find the back of the net and I’m sure that’s frustrating for him and it doesn’t help with you guys talking about it everyday,” Seabrook said. “He’s one of the best players in the world. He’s a hard worker and he’s going to work his way through this.”
He better do so quickly. There’s a minimum of 60 minutes left in the Blackhawks’ season, a season that started with a 24-game point streak that immediately built lofty expectations. Fair or not, Toews is going to carry some of the blame if the Hawks come up short.
“I think when things go well for our team sometimes I get more credit than I deserve,” Toews said. “And I think same goes the other way. I think when we don’t play as well as we can and we don’t win games, then same goes for me. I understand that’s part of it.”
It’s not always a part of it, but in this case it is. Toews’ top line has struggled since the playoffs began and to put it simply, it needs to start producing or the Blackhawks season will end Saturday.
“You couldn’t ask for a better captain or a better competitor than Johnny,” Quenneville said Friday. “Sometimes his frustrations show because he wants to do things the right way and he will continue to do it the right way.”
To no one’s surprise, that right way continued Friday as Toews was one of the few veterans who took the ice for an optional practice that only included 12 players.
“What’s there to be down about?,” he said afterwards.
Moments later, the captain was once again reading from his familiar Jonathan Toews glossary as he spoke to the media: Positive. Good vibe. Pull from the same rope. Leadership. Starts with myself.
Indeed it does, Johnny.
Follow Adam On Twitter at @AdamHoge.