The Chicago Blackhawks’ “Circus Trip” has rarely been very kind to the club, but this year’s trip could end up being a special breed of cruel if captain Jonathan Toews is out for any extended period of time.
So far on the two-week trip that sees the club head west, the Blackhawks have gone 2-3-0 and have been shutout twice in their three losses, but Wednesday’s loss extended well beyond the end result, which saw the San Jose Sharks escape with a 2-1 in yet another game where Corey Crawford was tested early and often. Midway through the tilt with the Sharks, the Blackhawks lost their on-ice and in-room leader, as Toews, 28, suffered an upper-body injury that forced him out of the game.
The only way to really describe the injury is bizarre. It came on nothing play — a simple collision along the left wing boards — but it appeared Toews’ fall to the ice caused him to land awkwardly on his shoulder. After making contact with Sharks captain Joe Pavelski, Toews fell with his left arm seemingly pinned under his body, and though he remained out on the ice, he seemed to nurse the arm for the final 25 seconds of his shift:
Chicago is generally tight-lipped when it comes to injury reports, and Toews was said to only have an upper-body injury. Coach Joel Quenneville said post-game that he didn’t know exactly how bad the injury is.
“We’ll see how he is (Thursday),” Quenneville said. “We’ll know more (Thursday). But I think we’re hoping that he’s OK and that it’s nothing long-term or serious.”
Asked if Toews could finish the road trip, which still has games against the Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings remaining, Quenneville answered simply, “We’ll see.”
Losing Toews for more than few games would be near catastrophic for the Blackhawks, especially given their lack of depth down the middle, and it would almost certainly throw the lineup into disarray. Toews being sidelined would see Artem Anisimov, a more than capable top-six center, move into the first-line role, Marcus Kruger as a potential option as a second- or third-line center, and then a mixture of veterans and rookies as stopgap options at pivot on the third and fourth lines.
Really, though, there’s almost a frightening lack of depth down the middle.
Among the veteran options are Andrew Desjardins and Dennis Rasmussen, for which the term veteran is used loosely, with 20-year-old Nick Schmaltz, 21-year-old Tyler Motte and 22-year-old Vinnie Hinostroza as rookies who could be used at center. Schmaltz would appear the best possible option and the one who has been utilized at center most throughout the campaign.
That said, Schmaltz’s ice time has been all over the place. The Blackhawks’ 2014 first-round pick, 20th overall, is averaging roughly 12 minutes per game, with some games where his ice time has climbed above 17 minutes and others at sub-10 minutes. He has just one goal and four points, but as far as the possession game goes, he’s fared quite well. His starts have been slanted towards the offensive zone, but in roughly 230 minutes of 5-on-5 play, Schmaltz has a 51.4 Corsi For percentage.
There’s no replacing Toews, though, neither short-term or long-term. No matter how well whoever gets an increase in minutes and role with Toews out of the lineup plays, be it Schmaltz or otherwise, the Blackhawks will be hoping the captain is back in action in short order.
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