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SportsMonday: Blackhawks Playing Head Games

We pause for a moment in the midst of wall-to-wall coverage off the NCAA tournament to point out that the Blackhawks are now 8-4-1 in their last 13 games. That would be a strong stretch in any circumstances but it is especially so because the team has played that baker's dozen without captain Jonathan Toews. And before we take a closer look at that streak, let's take a closer look at Toews' injury.

Toews has been out for about a month now with what the NBC Sports Network broadcast last night of the Hawks' 5-2 victory over the Capitals still described as an "upper body injury." One of the broadcasters noted that the Hawks still describe their young star's injury that way.

Everyone else has now gone ahead and reported that Toews has a concussion.

What is the matter with you, Blackhawks? If he has a concussion, say he has a concussion.

The NHL switched from specific injury reports to the ridiculous "upper body" or "lower body" reports in 2008 because they worried barbaric opposing players essentially were attacking the parts of players' bodies they knew had been hurt.

Now it feels as though they won't say "concussion" in some utterly misguided effort to mitigate the league's problems with head injuries.

Guys, you need to say it if you are going to do something about it, and the Hawks and the National Hockey League desperately need to confront their massive problem with concussions (much bigger than the NFL's) in some sort of dramatic way.

Toews is one of a large group of the NHL's best players who have been forced out of action for extended periods of time the past few years by head injuries. On Sunday the Capitals were without star defenseman Nicklas Backstrom.

Other awesome players who have missed extended periods of ice time or have been shut down for the season include reigning Rookie of the Year Jeff Skinner (Carolina), Milan MIchalek (Ottawa), Claude Giroux (Philadelphia) and favorite Blackhawks foil Chris Pronger (Philadelphia).

Then, of course, there is Sid Crosby, who has missed almost a year's worth of action after he took a shot to the head in the middle of the 2010-11 season that probably caused a concussion, didn't sit out long enough, and then took another shot to the head. The Penguins' Crosby has recently returned to action and has looked good but the prognosis for the best player in the league is questionable at best.

Clearly, a vast array of football players have taken too many shots to the head. But the NFL certainly hasn't seen a cavalcade of stars forced to the sideline like the NHL has. With the size and speed of modern hockey players, the problem will be tough to solve. But it is clear the first step is to acknowledge that there is a problem - with Toews in particular.

Of course, when you do that, you also have to answer tough questions about how the club didn't figure out a way to get Toews where he needed to go after the injury.

The club has said Toews was not hurt in a one-car auto accident he suffered after he was sidelined by his head injury but A) who knows if that is really true at this point and B) even if he wasn't hurt, the young star taking to the road in the driver's seat was a terribly unnecessary risk for Toews and for other drivers.

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As for the current state of the Hawks, the main thing is that Patrick Kane has raised his game in this latest stretch and he scored a magnificent goal to essentially put Sunday evening's comprehensive victory over the Capitals out of reach.

Kane has now scored six goals in the last 10 games and has quieted those who wondered if it might make the most sense for the Hawks to deal him before he starts making the huge dollars that he almost certainly will command when his current contract expires in 2015.

Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook have also re-asserted themselves as perhaps the best defensive pairing in the league. Goalie Corey Crawford actually didn't play particularly well on Sunday, but he didn't have to because the Hawk defense did such a good job of limiting scoring chances in front of him.

Finally, the Hawks have had key young players step up, led by power forward Andy Shaw. Shaw knocked in a couple goals against Washington and he has given the Hawks both skill and physicality since he was called up (seemingly for good) from the Rockford Ice Hogs at the beginning of the calendar year.

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Blackhawks-Capitals Highlights:

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Coach Q Says Shaw's Game Has "Sandpaper":

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Blackhawks Proud Of Defensive Effort:

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Jim "Coach" Coffman welcomes your comments.

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