Washington Capitals superstar Alex Ovechkin won’t be the only player skipping the All-Star Game, nor will he be the only one facing a one-game suspension for doing so. The Blackhawks announced Thursday that Jonathan Toews is out of the All-Star Game with an illness and will be forced to miss Chicago’s Feb. 2 game against the Colorado Avalanche.
It flew under the radar in Carolina’s 5-0 drubbing of Chicago Tuesday, but Toews, the Blackhawks’ captain, didn’t step foot on the ice after finishing the second period. In fact, he didn’t even return to the bench when the third period began. And now Toews won’t be heading to Nashville to take part in the all-star weekend.
Post-game Tuesday, Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville mentioned that Toews had been battling an illness heading into Tuesday’s game and said it was the reason he missed the third period of the contest against Carolina, and that was confirmed by Blackhawks team physician Michael Terry.
"Jonathan will not participate in the 2016 NHL All-Star Weekend in Nashville,” Terry said in a statement. “He was pulled from Tuesday night’s third period because of an illness and remains symptomatic today. At this time, rest over the break is most important for him to properly recover and be fully healthy heading into the rest of the regular season."
Toews, 27, has yet to miss any time this season and has scored 19 goals and 35 points in 53 games. It has been far from Toews’ most productive offensive season and some questioned the merit of his inclusion in the game, especially ahead of Winnipeg’s Blake Wheeler who was top 10 in scoring at the time rosters were named and is in the midst of a career year with 13 goals and 48 points in 49 games.
It’s not altogether surprising Toews and the Blackhawks are choosing to deal with his one-game ban in favor of having their top-line center rested, though. The Blackhawks, with 53 games played, have been the busiest team so far this season and January was hectic for Chicago. The Blackhawks played 14 games in 26 days. The next busiest club was Colorado with 14 contests in 27 days.
Toews’ absence means Nashville will have another hometown player at the game. The league named Predators winger James Neal, who has 18 goals and 30 points in 50 games, as Toews’ replacement for the contest. It will be the 28-year-old’s second appearance at the All-Star Game, as he previously participated in the 2011-12 game while a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Along with Neal, Washington Capitals center Evgeny Kuznetsov has also been named as a replacement player and he’ll head to the game in place of Ovechkin. Kuznetsov, 23, was a no-brainer to be named to the game when Ovechkin announced he would be skipping the game following Wednesday's tilt with the Philadelphia Flyers. Kuzentsov is sixth in league scoring at the break with 15 goals and 49 points in 47 games for the league-leading Capitals.
Ovechkin’s absence from the game has further implications on the All-Star Game. He was selected by fans as the Metropolitan Division captain, and that's changed with Ovechkin out of the game. New York Islanders center John Tavares, who was selected to the team in early January, will take over duties as Metropolitan captain.