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Wednesday Night Rivalry

Jonathan Toews of Blackhawks seeking consistency

Chicago captain battling through revolving linemates, subpar offensive output

by Brian Hedger / Correspondent

CHICAGO -- This was supposed to be a rebound season for Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews.

Toews, 28, has won the Stanley Cup three times with the Blackhawks and was expected to bounce back from a disappointing 2015-16 season in which he had 58 points (28 goals, 30 assists) in 80 games, his second-lowest career total in a full, injury-free season. Instead, his frustrations continue heading into this week's Wednesday Night Rivalry game against the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN, SN, TVA Sports, NHL.TV).

Despite having eight points (three goals, five assists) in his past six games, Toews is on pace to finish with career-low offensive numbers for a full season (16 goals, 32 assists, 48 points). He has fought through a reported back injury, which cost him nine games, and hasn't had consistent linemates since forward Brandon Saad was traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets on June 30, 2015.

"I would never have predicted that my line would change as much as it has," Toews said after practice in Chicago on Tuesday. "It is what it is. Give credit to [Saad]. He's a great player and a lot of fun to play with, but you can't look at one thing like that and hang your hat on that excuse. It's up to me to find that consistency with whoever I'm playing with."

The problem is Toews has played with 14 different forwards since the start of 2015-16, including eight this season. The majority were filling Saad's former role at left wing, but right wing also has become an issue.

Marian Hossa, who has spent most of his Blackhawks career playing right wing with Toews, has skated on each of the top three lines. Hossa has been playing with rookie left wing Ryan Hartman and center Marcus Kruger on the third line, with Toews at center with rookie Nick Schmaltz and Richard Panik.

Video: TBL@CHI: Toews taps in Panik's great feed in front

The only unit that doesn't change much is Patrick Kane's line, which includes left wing Artemi Panarin and center Artem Anisimov, the prized return in the Saad trade. That unit has been together for the bulk of last season and most of this season.

Toews said it's difficult finding chemistry when the names and faces of his linemates keep changing.

"At times, it definitely is [tough]," said Toews, who has 30 points (10 goals, 20 assists) in 45 games. "I think sometimes you look at [Anisimov], [Panarin] and [Kane] … as good as they've been, you don't really remember them for the game they might have been off or they didn't score. You give them some time to recover and they'll get back on the horse and get their offense going. Sometimes it is tough when you have to start that chemistry over."

Since losing Saad, and now Hossa, Toews has dealt with constant churn. He has played with veterans and rookies, grinders and skilled players, forwards of various shapes, sizes and speeds.

None has convinced coach Joel Quenneville to make him a regular fixture next to Toews, and there's no telling when the combination will change again.

"Sometimes it's midway through games or it's a couple times per week," Toews said. "Sometimes, even if I go a few games without scoring or producing, it'd be nice to start to build that chemistry and start to know where the other two guys are on your line. It's no knock against myself or anybody that I've been on a line with. It's about building that chemistry, [and] being predictable for each other. It's just about consistency."

The only consistency for Toews since last season is a steady decline in his puck possession and offensive production.

Despite winning 57 percent of his faceoffs and averaging 20:16 in ice time, higher than his 19:46 career average, Toews is tied for 125th in the NHL in scoring. He also has a minus-2 rating, and if that number stays in the negative, it would be the first time in Toews' 10-year NHL career he would finish below even.

Toews' 51.8 shot-attempts percentage (SAT%) also is down markedly from his career mark of 56.3 percent. His 8.5 shooting percentage is barely half of his 15.1 percent career average.

Those numbers might be a concern when considering Toews' reported charge of $10.5 million a season against the NHL salary cap, but his teammates and coaches don't seem worried.

They see all the other things Toews adds to the mix, on and off the ice.

"Jonny's such an important player," said Quenneville, who hopes to make fewer line changes going forward. "Whether he's productive or not [offensively], his line's always a factor in the game, and we need that line to be important for our team going forward. When they're scoring, it's what we're looking for, and when they're not they usually have their way with the other teams' top lines most nights."

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