Andrew Shaw finds himself in a very enviable, yet unenviable position.
The Chicago Blackhawks forward gets to center the team’s top line in Jonathan Toews’ absence, starting Thursday night against the Minnesota Wild. It’s a role any player would want, with Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa playing on either side of him.
But there’s the other side: trying to fill Toews’ shoes. It’s hard to ask one player to do that, and the Blackhawks aren’t putting that on any individual in their locker room. But for Shaw and the rest of the Blackhawks, it’s time to do a little more across the board.
Much like when the Blackhawks lost Patrick Kane, the same rule applies in Toews’ absence: it’s up to everyone to contribute more. For the Blackhawks centers, there has to be some added pressure. This team was already slightly thin up the middle before Toews was ruled out the rest of the regular season. Now without him, the remaining centers will have to do that much more.
“I have to go out and play hard, be strong defensively. I’ve never had this opportunity so it’s huge for me, and I have to step up and answer the bell,” Shaw said. “I want to go out there, play my game and work hard, be strong on those pucks and help on defense as much as I can.”
One thing Shaw cannot do is try to be Toews, and head coach Joel Quenneville isn’t expected him, or anyone else, to be that.
“They’re big shoes to fill but we want (Shaw) to play his own game and keep it as simple as possible. We’re trying to stress that across the board: play a tight, simple game and don’t play outside your elements,” he said. “You’re missing a Toews and a Kane, you just play to your own strengths and try to get success out of that.”
Still, Toews’ absence means opportunity for other centers. Joakim Nordstrom, recalled from the Rockford IceHogs on Wednesday, was slated to play second-line center vs. the Wild. Nordstrom made the Blackhawks out of training camp but has spent most of the season with the IceHogs. He said he’s learned a lot and hopes to apply it with the big club.
“Obviously it helped me to become a better player,” said Nordstrom, who added he’ll try not to feel extra pressure. “I’m going to just try to play the way I’ve been playing, with a lot of energy and speed. So that’s what I’m going to try to bring to the table.”
Marcus Kruger will be in his usual fourth-line spot, centering a group that’s been very consistent all season. But he knows the responsibilities increase with no Toews.
“Obviously he plays a lot of big minutes so it’s other guys who have to step up. That’s what we’re looking to do,” he said. “We’d rather have him playing. But it is what it is and we have to make the best of the situation.”
The Blackhawks will be expecting a little more from everyone, including their centers. Sure, there’s added pressure along with that. But it’s a pressure-packed time of year, anyway, so everyone just has to adjust – and help fill a very big void.
“There’s obviously the intangible with what Johnny brings: he’s your captain, your leader, a special player who comes every night and plays hard. That leadership has to come out from everyone tonight,” Quenneville said. “Knowing the presence Johnny has and what he brings to your team game, it has to be shared and absorbed by everybody.”