An awful 5-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday is sure to put a damper on any enthusiasm the Chicago Blackhawks were building as they continue to try and survive without their captain Jonathan Toews, who is reportedly out with a concussion.
The Hawks aren't making any declarations but let's face it, the goals have changed. Winning divisions, and even gaining home ice advantage, has been replaced by getting healthy and maintaining a playoff position without exerting every ounce of energy between now and the end of the regular season on April 7.
For all practical purposes the Hawks are entrenched as the No. 6 seed in the Western Conference. If that holds they are on a collision course with the Pacific Division winner, which will be the easiest draw for them -- by far. In fact, the Hawks currently have two more points (79 to 77) than division-leading Dallas. Chicago won't have home-ice advantage -- that goes to the division winner no matter the point totals -- but no hockey observer would count them out in a playoff series against the Stars, Phoenix Coyotes or San Jose Sharks. In fact, the Hawks would probably be the favorite in at least a couple of those matchups.
Now comes the bad news: It's hard to imagine them doing much of anything if Toews can't return soon.
Joel Quenneville was asked recently how concussions in general have emerged as a major factor in today's game.
"I think when we played, concussions weren't even an injury or weren't probably diagnosed the same way they are today," he said. "With history and time, there's been more awareness to it. You get a little more familiar with the treatment and sometimes it can be really severe. It's something that's progressed here in our game and that's all part of it. You'll always be hit with injuries in the course of the season.
"Some seasons have been decimated for certain teams with the number and the quantity. Sometimes the high-quality guys are all hurt at the same time, but it's something you go through and that's part of it. We're getting tested right here down the stretch without two key guys in [Toews] and [Niklas Hjalmarsson]. It's a great test."
The fact that Toews, as of Tuesday, still has not hit the ice since Feb. 19 is the frustrating part of the equation if you're a Hawks' fan. Hjalmarsson has been skating hard for days and still isn't ready for game action. Every player is different but at the very least Toews is going to need time to get his conditioning in playoff shape. That is if he's symptom free after he skates and has some contact in practice. Up until now he's only been able to perform off-ice workouts. That's encouraging but what's preventing him from skating? Something must still be lingering. Quenneville was non-committal when asked that question over the weekend.
"When he's ready to skate, his health, he'll be ready to get out there," he said.
It's the most frustrating of injuries. There are simply no timetables. When Toews first left the lineup it didn't sound serious simply because he didn't leave a game after a huge hit to the head. Either he played through several big hits that caught up with him or he felt the effects of a big hit later. Either way, days are now weeks.
Toews' agent, Pat Brisson, agreed with the frustrating part of a head injury though wasn't talking specifically about his client.
"Since you never know how long it will take for a concussion," Brisson told ESPNChicago.com. "It's not like a torn ligament or a broken bone."
Brisson should know something about concussions. He's also the agent for Sidney Crosby who has finally been cleared for contact.
The Hawks are off on Wednesday so the next official update on Toews' condition won't come until Thursday. As for the Hawks surviving without their captain, they've done alright so far. They're 4-4 without him in the lineup and as you might expect it's been a mixed bag of results within that record.
As long as they maintain their hold on a playoff spot and get Toews and others healthy, that's all that matters. Now back to the next pressing question, who's in goal Friday?