It’s natural to throw a quality player under the bus when he’s hit a brick wall. The thing is, sometimes people stumble when they try to identify what, exactly, that brick wall is.
Take, for instance, the case of the teams’ two floundering captains. Both Jonathan Toews and Mike Richards were playing incredible hockey through the first three rounds of these playoffs. Toews had an amazing 26 points during that period while Richards wasn’t far behind with 21. Conversely, through three contentious Stanley Cup final contests, both players only have one assist each.
So what, exactly, is bugging the two team leaders? Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun proposes the time-honored excuse of fatigue.
At times, it has been his lack of determination, which has been the polar opposite of his calling card as a hockey player. Richards cleanly lost a faceoff in Game 3 to John Madden, which resulted in a Chicago score. Two former players indicated that Richards’ inability to bear down at times is likely due to “exhaustion.”
Said one former player: “At times, it looks like he wants to do something but his body just won’t allow him to do it. It looks to me like he’s physically worn down.”
Some are wondering the same of Toews, who has had a little more jump than Richards, his Team Canada linemate and fellow captain, but Toews has the difficulty of playing most of his shifts in the series against Chris Pronger. That, by itself, is difficult. But when Ben Eager has more points three games in than the Blackhawks’ leading scorer, it means even the captain is asking questions of himself.
Now, it’s not completely crazy to blame the two players’ struggles on “being out of gas” (especially considering the Olympics), but I fail to see the reason why they didn’t suffer from the same ailments in the first three rounds of the playoffs. It reminds me of Eric Staal puttering out in the Stanley Cup finals after dominating the playoffs before that point; the question wasn’t “What are the Oilers doing that no one else could?” but rather “Is Staal injured?”
Oddly enough, the same player charged with shutting down Staal is also giving Toews and Patrick Kane fits: Chris Pronger. Let’s not forget, also, that the Chicago Blackhawks trot out a Norris Trophy nominee in Duncan Keith and Dave Bolland, the checking center who hampered high-scorers Joe Thornton and the Sedin twins to the point of frustration.
It’s not as “sexy” or interesting to blame a slump on a tough matchup. Many sports writers would like to assume that any mountain could be climbed by determination or stick-to-itiveness. Yet, my guess is that the real reason the two captains struggle is because they’ve met their matches.
Then again, this series is still young, with plenty more hockey to come. You know, just like those supposedly exhausted players.