Chicago Blackhawks v Detroit Red Wings - Game Three

The six pictures that make up the top row of Jonathan Toews’ Getty Image page all show something similar to what you see above. Jonathan Toews with a facial expression that implies something like “F^&% F$%$ STUPID PUCK WHY DON’T YOU JUST GO IN THE STUPID NET YOU F&*%ING F*^&.”

Now, you can generally find Toews with some sort of contorted look while playing, but it’s getting pretty extreme. He pretty obviously wants to score, and win, bad.

For those who haven’t noticed – and it’s pretty clear he’s not one of those people – he’s yet to contribute a tally in the post-season. His zero goals sit beside a total of three assists, which after eight games, doesn’t quite match-up with his 48 points in 47 regular season games.

There’s a number of excuses to be made for him, as their is for most top-tier players: it’s playoffs, and he’s one of the players other teams are going to key on to shut down (Jonathan Ericsson, in particular, is making him insane). It’s playoffs, so he’s going to be paying extra-special attention to defense. And it’s playoffs, so everybody’s time and space is shrunk by the general ramped-up intensity of the game.

There’s also a number of reasons to say he’s actually playing extremely well despite not putting up the standard boxcar stats. He’s averaging 3.5 shots per game, a pace only eclipsed in the regular season by a handful of players. His advanced stats are downright gaudy, as he’s leading the way for the Blackhawks possession-wise, while suffering a 970 PDO (he’s been somewhat unlucky). And he’s certainly not shying away from “the dirty areas,” which is generally a problem for skilled players going through slumps. He’s getting chances.

Chicago Blackhawks v Detroit Red Wings - Game Three

Part of the problem over the past half-dozen games or so for Toews has been something to do with the old platitude about “squeezing the stick too tight.” As in, once things start to go wrong, you start to try too hard, and that only makes your problems worse.

So about that cliché:

It’s tough for me to say if “squeezing the stick too tight” is a real thing from a physical standpoint. Hockey’s not like golf, where a nice comfortable grip is better than squeezing the hell out of the stick. The fact is, you have to squeeze a hockey stick pretty damn tight if you’d like to maximize the flex of your stick without it rolling over in your hands, so from a physical standpoint, it’s probably not a reality.

What is a reality is being relaxed mentally, versus being stressed. One of the greatest things about scoring goals is what it allows you comfort within your own roster. It restarts the “So-and-so hasn’t scored since” clock for you, so the pressure is off. You know they aren’t going to shuffle you down the depth chart, and you aren’t going to be removed from the powerplay, at least for a few games. And that comfort can provide a type of mental clarity that leads to more goals. You don’t need to press as hard, and something about that allows you to stay away from the pack of bodies chasing the puck and find the more dangerous, softer areas better.

For Toews, it’s not about a concern about getting shuffled down the depth chart or removed from the powerplay, it’s about the concern of media pressure, about his legacy, about winning the Stanley Cup. He knows what it is he provides and if he fails to provide those things as the captain and the team loses, he knows how much that will personally affect him (and the team). These are educated guesses of course, but I feel pretty comfortable making them.

An early, lucky goal in playoffs can go a long way, because there’s so many other things to worry about – systems, opponents, travel, health and all the rest – that you’d really like to avoid adding “scoring a damn goal” to the list. You kinda just hope it happens and doesn’t become a thing.

Think of your general To-Do List. How much better are you socially without the stress of a long one? You can smile, laugh, and be more clever without a thousand things hanging over your head that you know you need to get done. And the longer the list grows, the more difficult it becomes to sort out just what you’ve got to do next.

For Toews, the list is getting longer right now, and if his in-game actions – from the jabbing and jawing after the whistles, to the facial expressions between them – tell us anything, it’s that he needs one, and needs one soon to chill out. Once he gets on the board, I expect the points to start piling up like they usually do for him.