Two games into the season, Patrick Kane is showing everybody he doesn't need Artemi Panarin to remain one of, if not the, most dominant player in the NHL.
After wowing fans in the season opener, Kane threw another arsenal of moves at Panarin and his Columbus Blue Jackets in a 5-1 Blackhawks victory at the United Center on Saturday.
Kane needed just 93 seconds to give the Hawks a 1-0 lead, taking a pass from Ryan Hartman and slapping a perfect shot past goalie Joonas Korpisalo. Brandon Saad, who spent the last two seasons in Columbus, made it 2-0 less than five minutes later with his fourth goal of the young season.
Jonathan Toews and Jan Rutta added second-period goals, Richard Panik scored late in the third, and Corey Crawford made 32 saves in another solid performance by Joel Quenneville's squad.
Kane has 6 points in two games and seems to have taken his game to yet another level.
"I've always felt he's gotten a little bit better every year -- and off pretty substantial levels (where) it's almost impossible to keep moving ahead," Quenneville said. "Give him credit how he prepares in the off-season. He looks a little bit quicker, a little bit stronger."
It wasn't all good news for the Hawks, though, as they lost Nick Schmaltz to an upper-body injury on his first shift. Schmaltz got sandwiched between defensemen David Savard and Jack Johnson and collapsed to the ice just as Kane scored his goal. Schmaltz stayed behind the Blue Jackets' net for about 10 seconds before gingerly rising and being helped to the locker room.
Quenneville said Schmaltz probably won't go on the Hawks' mini road trip to Toronto and Montreal on Monday and Tuesday.
As for Kane, there were concerns that he wouldn't be the same without Panarin on his left wing. The two had electric chemistry on the ice and were tight off it as well.
"Really good kid. Fun to get along with," said Kane, who greeted Panarin at center ice during warmups. "We had plenty of battles on the bench too where we'd be mad at each other, and I think that's a sign of a healthy relationship. He was fun to have around."
Said Panarin about greeting Kane and Artem Anisimov before the game: "Anisimov and I, we stay in touch, we talk on the phone, so it was just mostly, 'Hi. How are you? Have a great game.'
"Patrick Kane came by and said, 'I miss you.' I said, 'I miss you, too.' "
Panarin's absence hasn't been noticed in Chicago, though, thanks to Kane's impressive play. In addition to scoring his second goal of the season Saturday, he sent a backhanded pass that went through three players to Rutta. The D-man then wristed a shot past Korpisalo for his first NHL goal at 12:51 of the second period.
"Just saw him (going) to the back post and tried to send it over there," Kane said. "I thought the goalie saved it at first, but it was nice to see him get his first one."
Now it's on to Toronto (2-0-0, 15 goals scored) for Kane and Co. to face a team that's just as hot as the Blackhawks.
"It's nice to start out big on our ice in front of our fans and get a good start to the season," Crawford said. "That's what we want to do and we did that. Just have to keep doing the same thing."