Chicago’s Captain Clutch

There is no doubt that Chicago Blackhawks Captain Jonathan Toews is one of their most talented players. He is a leader on and off the ice, and can play and excel in all three zones. Most importantly, he can pull out a clutch performance seemingly on demand. He is known as Captain Serious across the league, but in Chicago, that moniker has been tossed out for the more suitable Captain Clutch.

Toews can lift the team on his back, net a game-winning goal (GWG), and he owns the new 3-on-3 overtime. In fact, no player has scored more game winners in the new 3-on-3 format than Toews (4).  They have won seven overtime games in 11 attempts and have gone to the shootout only once. Patrick Kane was the hero in that one.

Captain Clutch

We have watched the Captain steal games right out from under unsuspecting opponents many times in the past few years, but none more spectacular than game seven versus the Anaheim Ducks in 2015. Toews stepped over the boards with a fire in his belly, and no one was more surprised than Ryan Getzlaf. He was the guy matched up against the captain, and many expected him to dominate on his home ice, in a must-win scenario. It was captain versus captain, and Toews was determined to win. That determination is precisely what makes Toews so formidable.

Getzlaf learned a lesson that many have learned before him, you do not get in the way of Captain Clutch. Toews started the game on a mission as he netted his first goal just past the two-minute mark on Fredrik Andersen. His next Goal came on the power play at 11:55 in the first.

That first goal was a statement, but the second was the dagger that sent the Ducks hopes plummeting back to earth. Toews called the series against the Ducks their toughest challenge on the road to their third Stanley Cup since 2010.

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This wasn’t the first or the last time the Ducks fell prey to Captain Clutch either. He had already forced an overtime with two goals in rapid succession late in game five of the same series; The Blackhawks lost that one, but it still set a tone and deflated Anaheim goalie Fredrik Andersen’s confidence. The same goalie who had been riding high throughout the playoffs.

Toews is that rare player who can play in any situation, and he will almost never let his team down in the clutch. On the biggest stages, Toews is the type of player who can outshine the brightest spotlight. He doesn’t score every night, but more often than not he will be the difference maker when the team has their backs against the wall. A savior, a leader, and always a team player; Toews is the kind of leader every coach wants on their team.

Mr. 3-on-3

Toews has also been exceptional in this season’s new overtime format. There are not a whole lot of teams that can roll out a trio of Conn Smythe winners to start the 3-on-3. Generally speaking, it is a terrible idea to face off against the Blackhawks in overtime, as the odds are never in your favor when the captain throws a leg over the boards. He is almost always followed by Kane and Duncan Keith though last night it was Niklas Hjalmarsson or Brent Seabrook at the blue line.

With all the open space in the new format, it would seem that it was designed for a player like Toews to excel, and certainly he has a tendency to come up big in these kinds of situations. As he usually does, Toews took charge in the Blackhawks final game of 2015 with his fourth overtime GWG of the year last night in Colorado.

Toews moved through the zone as the puck shifted from the blue line out to the dot where Patrick Kane slipped a pass to Toews who was waiting near the crease; He made a nifty little turn and threw a wrister right by Semyon Varlamov.

In fact, Toews dominated the OT frame two games in a row earlier this season against last season’s Stanley Cup opponents the Tampa Bay Lightning, and the Anaheim Ducks again.

The first goal came against the Tampa Bay Lightning, as Toews simply muscled his way through two players and forced his will upon them as he potted the game winner. The second goal came off of a backward pass from Patrick Kane with Toews coming in hot. He blew right by Getzlaf as if he was not even there to victimize Fredrik Andersen once again.

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The irony is, up until this point, Toews had not scored a goal all season. From there, he has scored 11 more goals and recorded 11 assists. Six of the 13 goals were game winners, and four came in OT. If you were to look up clutch in the dictionary, you just might find a picture of Jonathan Toews.

Accomplishing Greatness

Few would argue Toews leadership qualities; He demands the best of himself on a nightly basis, and his team follows that example. Toews is not the type of leader who will call out his team for their mistakes if the game is not going the right way he looks at himself first. He will shoulder the blame, and deal with any team issues behind closed doors; Fingers will never be pointed while Chicago’s captain is in front of the media, that is simply not how he gets things done.

Toews doesn’t put up the flashiest numbers. He never has, and that isn’t what the team needs from him.  However, he is rarely caught playing out of position, and he is arguably one of the best two-way forwards in the league today. For Toews, the job starts with defense as he is often charged with shutting down an opposing team’s top offensive threats. That doesn’t always lend itself to a lot of scoring opportunities for the Blackhawks top pivot, but it does frequently keep the other team’s biggest threats at bay forcing them to find other ways to beat the always reigning Cup champs.

If Toews chose to play a more selfish game, there is little doubt that he could pad his stats; Instead, Toews elects to play the game the way his team needs him to play. The way he has always played throughout his career, and it has served him pretty well. It has garnered three Stanley Cup Championships, a Selke trophy (plus six more nominations), two Olympic gold medals, a Mark Messier Leadership Award, and a Conn Smythe trophy. And that’s just scratching the surface, as there were a number of awards that came before his NHL Career and there will likely be more before his career ends.

He is also a member of the elite ‘Triple Gold Club’ having won an Olympic gold medal, a World Championship gold medal, and a Stanley Cup. A feat that only 26 others have accomplished. He is in good company with current NHL players like Jaromir Jagr, Sidney Crosby, Patrice Bergeron, Henrik Zetterberg and Niklas Kronwall having earned the distinction as well.

Toews leads from the front, always holding himself to the highest standards. That quality is one that is respected by nearly everyone who watches, plays alongside, or goes up against Toews.

“Really, does Jonathan Toews leave anything to chance? Sure, he can’t guarantee the results he wants but Toews isn’t a starry-eyed dreamer that lets the world turn whichever way it wants. No, Toews tries to turn the world in his direction, and lately, he’s been more successful than any other player.”

“Many will argue – and I’m firmly in this camp – at this moment in time, Toews is the best player in the world. Durable, clutch and complete. He is The Franchise in Chicago and maybe Canada too.” ~ Gary Lawless – Winnipeg Free Press

There are always going to be arguments about whether he is the best hockey player, but there should be little debate about whether he is the best captain and leader in the NHL.

For years, Sidney Crosby has been touted as the best player and the best captain, but he has done little to earn the two distinctions this year. In fact, Crosby has accounted for nine goals and 18 assists and is a -3, numbers that are not even close to what people have expected of him in years past.  Especially given the fact that the team added Phil Kessel to the mix over the summer.

The difference between the two is that Toews’ team thrives on the balance that he brings while the Pittsburgh Penguins rely on Crosby to ignite their offense. For the Blackhawks, Toews adding to the score sheet is a bonus on top of the other things he does every night.

The comparisons will be drawn as long as both players are hitting the ice on a nightly basis though they really couldn’t be more different once you get beyond the position and title. Both are great players destined for the Hall of Fame, and both are worthy of the praise they’ve been given, but at this time, Toews is clearly the player making the biggest impact of the two.

One thing is certain, in Chicago, there is no debate. Captain Clutch is the only man for the job; others need not apply.

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