x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Jonathan Toews edges out Sidney Crosby in debate over best NHL captain

After they both won the first round in the NHL play-offs, Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks comes out on top over Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins but not by much, writes Rob McKenzie.

The Chicago Blackhawks’ Jonathan Toews, right, and the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Sidney Crosby each led their teams to a victory in the first round of the NHL play-offs and could potentially face one another in the finals. AP Photo
The Chicago Blackhawks’ Jonathan Toews, right, and the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Sidney Crosby each led their teams to a victory in the first round of the NHL play-offs and could potentially face one another in the finals. AP Photo

TSN, the Canadian sports channel, runs a segment called Face/Off during its hockey coverage in which two panellists argue opposite sides of a question.

During a recent play-off game, the question was: who would you rather have leading your team in the play-offs, Sidney Crosby or Jonathan Toews?

The panellists’ answers point to a sea change in the regard in which the two stars are held.

Jeff O’Neill, a former player, began the debate by saying that while Crosby has all the talent in the world, “how can you go wrong with Jonathan Toews?”

Claude Noel, a former coach, was supposed to defend Crosby’s corner, but instead he backed Toews, too, praising him as his team’s emotional leader.

Score it Toews 2, Crosby 0.

In the first round of this year’s play-offs, Crosby’s Pittsburgh Penguins and Toews’s Chicago Blackhawks won their series, but it was Toews who shone.

He scored three goals as Chicago upset the St Louis Blues in six games. Each of his goals was a game-winner, including a beauty on a breakaway to clinch Game 5 in overtime. Toews was plus four for the series.

He is as clutch as they come.

Crosby had no goals and six assists as Pittsburgh needed six games to finish off the underdog Columbus Blue Jackets, who fought hard. Crosby was minus two for the series. Still, he works hard, is strong as an ox and has the best backhand in hockey. What separates the two captains is illuminated by an epigram from Goethe: “Let us not all be the same, but let each man resemble the highest. / How so? Let each of us grow to the full height of himself”.

By talent, Crosby stands the highest of any player in the league.

But Toews, with his fire and cajoling, causes his teammates to rise to their full height. That is why you can shut down the Penguins by shutting down Crosby, as the Boston Bruins did in a play-offs sweep last year, but you cannot shut down the Blackhawks by shutting down Toews.

What Crosby needs to restore his primacy is a signature win in a play-off series. It did not happen in the first round. It probably will not happen in this round, since Pittsburgh should be able to beat the New York Rangers.

But it would happen if the Penguins were to defeat big, bad Boston in the conference final, or if they were to topple Toews and the Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup final.

That would be a series worth staying up until 3am for.

rmckenzie@thenational.ae

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