Earlier this week, a case was made that Blackhawks' captain Jonathan Toews was the most valuable player on Canada's Olympic team. However, after watching Canada destroy Russia to advance to the medal rounds, it is becoming clear that Toews should be on a very, very short list of names being considered for the overall tournament Most Valuable Player.
Toews received subtle praise from Canadian coach Mike Babcock before Wednesday night's game when the lines were rearranged for the game against Russia. Toews stayed with Mike Richards, but Rick Nash was moved off the line with Sidney Crosby who had been so successful to be next to the Hawks' center.
The Toews-Nash-Richards line was specifically put together to play against the Russian line featuring Alexander Ovechkin; somehow, Crosby dodged the assignment.
The defensive job done by this line, along with the stellar play of Canadian defensemen Scott Niedermayer, Chris Pronger, Duncan Keith, Shea Weber, and Drew Doughty, held Ovechkin to three shots on goal.
Yes, Russia didn't show up at all, and everyone on their roster played a terrible game. But after the effort Ovechkin brought to beat the Czech Republic in the round-robin, and considering that the game was getting out of hand for Russia quickly, even the thought that one of the more trigger-happy players in the NHL would be limited to three shots on goal is incredible.
Toews played a major role in that effort. (Please do not read this as me giving Toews personally all the credit for Ovechkin having a bad night.)
Beyond just the job Toews and his teammates did defensively on Wednesday night, Toews has been exceptional the entire tournament. Through Wednesday night's game, Toews is the overall tournament leader in plus-minus with an astounding +9 rating, leads the entire tournament field with seven assists, and is tied with teammate Dany Heatley for the overall tournament points lead at seven.
In each of Canada's last three games, Toews has been one of the best players on the ice for either team. His unselfish play on a team full of superstars is something any collection of individuals needs to be successful. In five games, Toews has only taken six shots.
Toews is averaging almost three shots per game in the regular season for the Blackhawks and is tied for second on the team with 19 goals; we're not talking about assist-only Joe Thornton here. Toews is a very good scorer. But he has taken a secondary scoring role because it's what Canada needs from him, and he's rewarded his countrymen with an exceptional tournament.
The three remaining players that have had the greatest impact on the Olympic tournament are Toews, Heatley, and United States goalie Ryan Miller. Toews' statistics are more impressive than Heatley's in every category other than goals scored, though. While a wonderful case can be made for Miller, the most valuable skater in the tournament has been Toews.