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Toews, Blackhawks finding consistency, confidence

Captain has goal, assist for second straight game in win against Rangers

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

NEW YORK -- Jonathan Toews has been struggling with consistency and confidence for most of the season. So too have the Chicago Blackhawks.

But Toews, Chicago's captain, has been better in the past 4 1/2 periods he's played; more assertive and aggressive in his play, heavy and skilled on the puck, and, in the end, productive. So too have the Blackhawks.

This is not a coincidence.

 

[RELATED: Blackhawks wrap up road trip with win against Rangers]

 

Chicago defeated the New York Rangers 5-2 at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday, when Toews had a goal and an assist for the second straight game. He also did in a 4-3 overtime loss against the Calgary Flames on Sunday, helping Chicago rally after trailing 3-0 in the second period.

Toews had no points in six games before starting his mini-hot streak. Chicago went 3-3-0 in those games.

"When he's going and that line is going, it just picks up our whole team," Blackhawks right wing Patrick Kane told NHL.com, "and that gets everyone going."

The Blackhawks are 13-3-3 when Toews scores at least one point; they're 6-11-3 when he doesn't.

It's easy to focus on his 20 games without a point, and it's relevant considering the Blackhawks are sixth in the Central Division, albeit two points out of a Stanley Cup Playoff position. If he were more consistent, they'd probably be in a better place in the standings.

But it's more important to focus on Toews' past two games, because the hope in Chicago is that it's a sign of what's to come in the second half of the season.

Video: CHI@NYR: Hinostroza nets Toews' between-the-legs pass

"I definitely feel a difference in just the way that I'm playing these last couple of games," Toews said after the game Wednesday. "I definitely felt good energy since the Christmas break, and these last two games especially, I felt I was patient with the puck, protected it well and strong on my stick."

The strength he shows on his stick may be the biggest difference Toews has shown in recent games. He always shows it at the face-off dot, where he was 17-for-23 against the Rangers and is 57.8 percent this season, so he should be able to use that same strength to win puck battles.

"For a lot of the season, I feel like those pucks are going through me," Toews said. "I've been a little too light and eventually you're going back the other way, backchecking, and that takes a lot out of you."

Toews thinks that's in part to the ill-advised mentality he and linemate Brandon Saad have had for most of the season.

"My focus was always too much on going out there to produce, find a way to get on the scoresheet," Toews said. "It's like trying to get the ball in the hole on your first swing from the tee box."

Toews said focusing on scoring first means he's skipping the extra step or two he must take to produce.

"That's when you start squeezing the stick and forcing plays that aren't there, making simple mistakes you wouldn't normally make," Toews said. 

To avoid them, he, Saad and whoever plays with them must get the puck deep, be heavy on it, grind, cycle and then make the skilled play that leads to a goal, like the one Toews made Wednesday to set up Vinnie Hinostroza for Chicago's first goal at 16:09 of the first period.

Video: CHI@NYR: Toews pots Saad's diving pass for ENG

He got the puck to the right of the net off an end-boards carom and found Hinostroza, who made his top-line debut against the Rangers, in the slot with a blind backhanded pass through his legs and those of defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk.

The lead lasted two minutes before Rangers defenseman Nick Holden scored to tie it, but Toews and his linemates were rolling. Every time they poured over the boards for a shift in the second period, they consistently generated chances and spent most of their ice time low in the zone.

Toews could have had at least two more assists on terrific passes to Hinostroza, setting him up for Grade-A chances that he couldn't finish. You're not going to connect every time when you're going against Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist, but the key is that line was often dangerous.

Not surprisingly, it fueled the rest of the Blackhawks.

They also got goals from their second and third lines, including Patrick Sharp's first goal in 13 games since Nov. 27. Sharp was a healthy scratch the past two games.

Toews scored an empty-net goal at 19:06 of the third period before Kane scored one at 19:55.

"If you watch the best players that are scoring a ton right now, they're not worried about scoring at all, they're just going out there and playing the situation and smart without the puck, supporting their teammates in weak areas where they can get away from pressure," Toews said. "I think [Saad] and I have been kind of grinding mentally and physically to find a way to just go out there and feel the game a little bit more. I think we've seen that the last few games, so we'll try and keep focusing on not scoring and just playing well, creating chances and shooting the puck. Eventually it's going to go in."

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