Hawks must make do without Toews

CHICAGO -- The thought of missing potential Hart Trophy candidate Jonathan Toews for even a single game can’t sit well with Chicago Blackhawks fans or his team.

Toews’ 27 goals are seven more than either Marian Hossa or Patrick Sharp, who are tied for second on the team, have contributed. His 61.1 faceoff winning percentage is tops in the league and the next ranked Hawk -- Dave Bolland -- is 72nd in that category at just 46.3 percent.

Yeah, he’s going to be missed.

“You miss his leadership and how important he is to our team,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said of Toews sitting out Tuesday night’s game against the Nashville Predators. “It changes the complexion of what our options are.”

Toews was slashed in the left hand by Florida’s Erik Gudbranson on Friday, and though Quenneville said there was no “defining blow” causing his injury, that slash is believed to have played a part in his ailment.

“Took a whack on the hand,” Toews said after Friday’s game. “Nothing serious. Should be ready for tomorrow [Saturday] night.”

He might have been ready to play, but he couldn’t finish, and now the Hawks are left to navigate a tough rematch game. But hopefully for the Hawks’ sake, Toews’ absence will last just one game.

“Certainly time is in our favor with the whole [All-Star] week off,” Quenneville said after practice on Monday. “It’s all part of the season, everyone goes through it. Top guys get exposed, they get tested in a different way. [Tuesday] night will be a good test for us.”

Toews was scheduled to participate in the All-Star festivities and play in the game, but Quenneville said it’s “not likely” to happen. That’s a no-brainer. He’s as important to the Hawks as any player is to his team. So if missing just Tuesday night’s contest and then the All-Star Game gets him healthy for February and beyond, that’s the right call. But how do the Hawks manage without him against the Predators, who just beat them 5-2?

New lines

Dave Bolland took Toews’ place on the top line between Patrick Kane and Viktor Stalberg at practice on Monday. Bolland has played with both players before, but only when those wingers have been moved “down”. The Hawks’ lack of true centers shines through when one is injured, especially when that one is Toews.

Bolland will undoubtedly take key faceoffs, but has less than a 50 percent chance of winning them, if history holds true. And remember, Bolland is used to a more defensive role. He’ll have to get up ice quickly to keep up with Kane and Stalberg.

“I don’t want him to change how he plays,” Quenneville said. “You don’t have to try be Johnny or an offensive type of guy. Play to your strengths, especially [Tuesday]. It’s going to be a tight game.”

The second line remains intact with Marcus Kruger between Hossa and Andrew Shaw. Michael Frolik moves over to center to play with Andrew Brunette and Jimmy Hayes while Jamal Mayers stays where he is alongside Ben Smith and Bryan Bickell, who will be re-inserted into the lineup after being a healthy scratch.

So if you’re keeping track, that’s two natural centers dressing for the game and one of them has just 46 career contests under his belt. No matter how well the young players perform, general manager Stan Bowman’s needs are the same, and that includes a center.

Crawford back in goal

Quenneville made the right call in sending Corey Crawford back in net against the Predators before the All-Star break. He’s their No. 1 goalie, until he’s not, and you don’t shoot down a young player’s confidence by letting him think about a subpar performance for an entire week. Crawford was pulled after giving up four goals in the loss to the Predators on Saturday. Quenneville is giving him another shot to feel good about himself.

“He’s fine,” Quenneville said. “I think everyone goes through it, let a funny one in over time. You have to move past it, learn from it. You have to get rid of it and move forward. Craw is good at that.”

The “funny one” Quenneville is referring to is a center-ice dump-in by Kevin Klein that skipped by Crawford for a game-changing goal. The Predators took a 2-1 lead and owned the rest of the game.

“Anytime something like that happens you try to forget about it, but I know it was in my mind for a little bit after they scored that,” Crawford said. “I want to come back strong after leaving the game, getting pulled.”

This is another night the Hawks might need Crawford to shine. Two of their top goal scorers are out of the lineup and they’re facing a defensively sound team with a top-notch netminder, assuming Pekka Rinne plays. The Hawks are bound to lose some defensive zone faceoffs without Toews, which could lead to Crawford facing a lot of shots. Crawford’s save percentage ranks near the bottom of the league.

“I’m more worried about wins,” he said. “Obviously my stats aren’t as good as I want them to be. The only way to turn that around is to focus on next shot and focus on winning games.”

Quenneville has given him a chance to do that on Tuesday. With the Predators playing Monday night against Columbus, the shoe is on the other foot as far as fatigue is concerned. The Hawks had no energy in Saturday’s loss after playing on Friday night, and now it’s the Predators who will come in tired after flying to Chicago late into the night.

Then again, the Hawks are without Toews so the negatives are more than even.