Kane senses better days ahead
|Bill Smith / Chicago Blackhawks|
CHICAGO -- His stats dipped after the new year started and he didn't score a single goal for the United States at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, but Patrick Kane isn't concerned.
In fact, he sounds quite the opposite heading into the Chicago Blackhawks' final stretch of 22 games in the regular season.
"I'm excited about what we have left in the season," Kane said Wednesday, after his first practice since returning from Russia. "I think going through the Olympics was obviously a little bit of a struggle, but I still feel like I played decent and had enough chances to put up some good numbers. It just didn't happen that way. I'm actually, if you can believe it or not, excited where my game is and where I can improve and get better."
Considering Kane has already put up point-scoring streaks of 12 and 14 games this season -- the latter a career-high mark that stretched from Nov. 30 to Dec. 30 -- hearing him say he's excited about his game could be a signal of good things ahead.
That's the hope for both he and the Blackhawks, who exit the break tied in points with the St. Louis Blues (84) atop the Central Division and trail the Anaheim Ducks by three points for the overall lead in the NHL standings.
"I think your game changes as the season goes on," Kane said. "Sometimes you try to get back to that type of form [you had before], but I think teams get better as you get later into the season too. So, you try to adjust any way you can to get [scoring] opportunities."
The past couple months haven't been kind to Kane, on or off the ice.
Since the calendar flipped to 2014, he scored just four goals and assisted on six others in 17 games, prior to going scoreless with four assists in six Olympic games. He also missed Chicago's last game before to the break to attend the funeral of his beloved grandfather, Donald Kane, in his hometown of Buffalo.
The past seven weeks have made that personal-best point streak, in which he scored eight goals and had 17 assists, seem like ancient history. And yet it's impressive Kane remains ranked fourth in the NHL scoring race with 63 points in 59 games (27 goals and 36 assists).
He's fallen off the League-leading pace of Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby (78 points), but Kane is still within four points of Anaheim Ducks center Ryan Getzlaf (67 points) for second. He also has 487 career points in just his seventh NHL season.
That's without the chance to develop chemistry with a full-time center on his line. Kane plays right wing on the second line nearly every game, but the Blackhawks have rotated a number of centers into the middle of that unit throughout the season.
That might be the most impressive thing about his season thus far.
"You look at it and he's played with probably every single guy, be it a centerman or a winger with him," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "He plays in a lot of different situations and [hasn't had] that consistency of having a predictable linemate and having that all year and knowing where to expect him on the ice. But that versatility of him being aware of where everybody is on the ice, no matter who it is, is a great asset that he has and it's a great threat for the opponents to be concerned with. It really enhances our team."
The Blackhawks will need that boost from Kane if they want to win a second straight Presidents' Trophy and gain home-ice advantage throughout the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Chicago has a highly-skilled nucleus and quality depth, but Kane is one of the biggest pistons that drives the engine.
When he's hot, there might not be a team with a better combination of top lines.
"He's an amazing player," said Andrew Shaw, one of the centers who's worked with Kane this season. "You can never replace a guy like that. Everyone on this team enjoys playing with him and he's got chemistry with everyone. No matter the situation, if we need a goal he's going to be out there. He's going to do his best to score. He's always been a great hockey player and I think he's helped improve a lot of people's games just by playing with him."
The 25-year old Kane has also done enough for the Blackhawks that his current scoring downturn barely even registers inside the locker room. Quenneville said he remains pleased with Kane's all-round game, regardless of statistics, and captain Jonathan Toews didn't bat an eye when asked if he's concerned about Kane's scoring slump.
"No, not at all," Toews said. "I think he looks at himself and expects to produce and that's how he's going to contribute to his team, but I think if anything [the Olympics are] going to motivate him to play better the rest of the season. He's been having a great year so far. His team [in Sochi] didn't have the success he wanted, but I don't think that's going to slow him down."
Neither will the next two games.
The Blackhawks play the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Thursday night before returning to face Crosby and the Penguins on Saturday night at Soldier Field in the final game of the 2014 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series (8 p.m. ET, NBC).
"It's exciting," Kane said. "Madison Square Garden is always a great place to go. Just walking in the building gets the blood going a little bit, and it's exciting for us because you don't play there that often. That'll be fun and then we'll see what the weather's like on Saturday, but it's going to be a fun experience for everyone."