Hawks continue to be cautious with Toews

CHICAGO -- The moment injured Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews took the ice for practice on Wednesday wearing a black jersey you knew it wasn’t a good sign.

All of the other top players for the Hawks – the ones who play on the power play -- were wearing red. Toews sat with the rest of the black jerseys -- the penalty killers -- as the power play drills were being run. It’s one thing for Toews not to take a regular line rush in practice -- maybe Joel Quenneville didn’t want to tip his hand -- but for Toews to sit out power play work, it meant he wasn’t playing.

In the dressing room afterwards, Toews left the door open, but Quenneville quickly shut it.

"We just talked about it," Quenneville told the assembled media. "He's going to come on the trip, but we're going to rule him out for (Thursday). All part of the process."

They may or may not have “just talked about it” but the black jersey an hour earlier was the giveaway. He wasn’t playing.

And when Quenneville uses the phrase “part of the process” it’s usually not a good sign. Last time he said that Toews had a setback. Now before you push panic button, the fact that he’s traveling with the team to Minnesota and then Detroit is the best sign of all. The Hawks wouldn’t waste the energy of flying him around if he wasn’t indeed close.

Quenneville was asked if playing the all-of-a-sudden feisty Wild was a factor in keeping Toews out of the lineup.

“With Johnny? No, no,” he responded.

The fact that Toews has been cleared to play by doctors means he’s being extra cautious. Until the games are really meaningful why not wait until he’s as close to 100 percent as possible. If Game 83 took place on Thursday instead of Game 81 there’s a good chance Toews would be on the ice.

Now the question is simply does he need Game 82 to be ready or do the Hawks unveil a healthy Toews for the first time in 23 games next week against an opponent to be determined? Odds are he plays on Saturday against the Detroit Red Wings. We’ll see.

Kane-Toews-Hossa?: There was more chatter on Wednesday regarding the possibility of the three superstars playing together when Toews returns, considering Quenneville doesn’t want to break up his second line of Patrick Sharp, Marcus Kruger and Viktor Stalberg.

So which perennial right winger would move to the left side? It sounds like there is little doubt.

“I’m sure I’d be the guy that would move over there,” Kane said with a smile. “I’ve tried with Hossa before. There is no talking with that guy about it. He’s got a little more rank on me, too. Whatever position. It doesn’t really matter. We’ll see what happens.”

There are subtle differences to playing one wing over the other. Most are associated with bringing the puck up ice out of the defensive zone.

“I don’t know if they want to argue about it or fight over it if that’s the scenario,” Quenneville said. “It certainly would be nice to consider that group playing together but we’ll see.”

Kane has played left wing before but not for long. Even trying to switch with Hossa while Kane is at center is a non-starter.

“Sometimes I say ‘I got right [wing] this shift,’ and he looks at me like I have three heads,” Kane joked.

Hossa was political about the idea of he and Kane playing with Toews again while moving to left wing.

“When that happens Kane usually moves to the left and I stay to the right,” Hossa said. “It’s up to the coaches what they decide when Johnny comes back.”

In other words, Hossa isn’t going anywhere.

Hossa team MVP?: Kane was asked, excluding himself from the voting, for his pick of the Hawks’ MVP this season. “Probably be Hossa,” he said. “He had a great season overall. He’s very consistent this year. He was a big part of my All-Star Game fiasco, too. Gave me a big assist on that. Just playing with him, realizing how good he is. He made my life as a centerman a lot easier so I’d pick him.”

The second line: Kruger, Sharp and Stalberg are receiving accolades for their great play of late and much of it has to do with Kruger providing space and time for his linemates to score. So which winger wants the puck more?

“I think Sharp should have the puck more than Stalberg,” Kruger joked. “But Viktor has played real good lately. He’s good with the puck and doing smart things out there. He’s getting better and better.”

Spoken like anything but a rookie, right?

“I think we’re playing good lately,” Kruger continued. “It’s fun to play with those guys. We have pretty good chemistry.”

Stalberg on PP?: Quenneville was asked once again if Stalberg is deserving of some power-play time. “He got some consideration last game,” Quenneville said. “We’ll see going forward. He is useful in a lot of ways. There is always been a consideration with Viktor.” Why “consideration” hasn’t turned into actual playing time is still a bit of a mystery. Stalberg has the most points in the NHL (42) without earning one on the special teams.