CHICAGO -- Derick Brassard recently summed up exactly what Jonathan Toews means to the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks.
In town this past weekend with the Columbus Blue Jackets, Brassard described Toews as the "head of the snake," that makes Chicago tick. He said Chicago forward Patrick Kane can "make you look silly," but Toews is the guy in charge.
Now the Hawks will have to do without Toews for the immediate future with an apparent shoulder injury that happened during Tuesday night's 3-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues at Scottrade Center. Matt D'Agostini checked Toews hard into the boards with about seven minutes left in the first period and the Hawks' captain didn't return.
After assessing the injury further on Wednesday, the Hawks expect Toews to miss two weeks -- which means possibly seven games. The news comes on the heels of Chicago recently getting both Kane and fellow star forward Marian Hossa back from extended injuries.
"With Johnny, he's going to be out probably a couple of weeks," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said after Wednesday's practice at the United Center. "We've had some guys in and out, so the consistency in our lineup hasn't been in place. At the same time, no matter who it is, you've got to deal with it. We've lost some key guys and got through some pretty big games in a recent stretch here at home. So, it's up to us to find ways."
Tuesday was Kane's first game back after missing eight games with a lower body injury believed to be his left ankle, while it was the second game back for Hossa, who missed 10 games with an apparent knee sprain.
Losing Toews could be an entirely different story.
He's wearing the "C" on his sweater at just 22-years-old for a reason, and his leadership is probably the overriding reason he won the Conn Smythe during Chicago's 2010 Stanley Cup championship run.
He's much more than just a great skater, stick-handler and play maker. He also plays on both special teams units, excels at faceoffs and is often an emotional sparkplug. The Hawks are saying all the right things, but they also know how tough it will be to replace "the head of the snake."
"He's good at everything he does," veteran defenseman Nick Boynton said. "He's one of the most complete players in the League. But you can't worry about what's not in the lineup. It's what's in the lineup (that matters), and that's that. Obviously you miss a guy like that, but it's up to the rest of us to step up and take his spot."
Still, not having all that Toews offers -- even for two weeks -- could be potentially devastating.
On the one hand, it's only two weeks. On the other, Chicago was already sitting eighth in the Western Conference with 43 points before Wednesday's games -- just four points ahead of 12th-place Columbus and six in front of the Minnesota Wild in the 13th spot.
The bright side is that they've already managed to stay in the thick of things despite missing Kane, Hossa, Brian Campbell, Dave Bolland and Fernando Pisani for extended stretches -- along with several shorter-term injuries to other players.
The only thing different about this one is that No.19 is sidelined, which leads some to question whether they can overcome the leadership void. Quenneville thinks it can be done, but not by just one or two players.
"Certainly Johnny's a big piece and a key guy," he said. "We don't need to say we're going to be Johnny Toews, whoever's going to get that role. As a group we just share that responsibility and everybody chips in. We should be OK."
From a strategic standpoint, recently acquired center Ryan Johnson should come in handy. Johnson sat out as a healthy scratch the past two games with Hossa and Kane back, but now he'll be thrown into an important role on Thursday against the San Jose Sharks.
"We can use (Johnson) in a lot of ways," Quenneville said. "We like his speed and his (penalty killing) responsibilities. Certainly you lose that with Johnny. He gives us a little bit of that, as well."
As for the other aspects Toews provides, this stretch of games could be the ultimate test of whether the Hawks truly are contenders to defend their Cup title. If so, they'll probably be in the race to the end regardless of injuries.
If not, they'll just wilt away.
"You have to move on," Campbell said. "If you can't move on, then you're not going to be very successful. It's what we have to do. You keep rolling no matter who's with you or not with you. It's a sign of a good hockey club. Good teams win no matter what happens. You find different ways to win if you need to."
The search for those ways starts on Thursday for Chicago.