Chicago Blackhawks' Kane on another magical run
Last year at this time -- 369 days ago to be exact -- I approached Patrick Kane at his locker stall, ready to basically pose this line of questioning to one of the world's best hockey players:
What the heck is going on with you? Four goals in 16 games? Six assists? Just 46 shots on goal? Hello?
OK, I obviously wasn't that harsh. But considering Kane really didn't know me from a hole in the wall at the time, his answers to my "how do you think your season is going" inquiries were surprisingly -- and refreshingly -- candid.
"As an offensive guy you're always looking at how much you're producing and how much you're creating for the team," Kane said that day. "If it's not up to par, then obviously you're not doing something right and you're not doing your job."
In the 45 regular-season games after that interview took place, Kane scored 23 goals and registered 31 assists. Then, after rehabbing from a broken clavicle, he helped lead the Hawks to yet another Stanley Cup title.
Not only is Kane riding a 13-game points streak (one away from a career high), he also leads the NHL with 28 points and a plus-14 rating. He's on pace for 59 goals and 128 points, which would shatter his previous career highs of 30 and 88.
So all I can say is -- you're welcome, Chicago. Happy to help.
"I just see him as a more complete player during this streak than at any time in the past," said former Blackhawk and current WGN radio analyst Troy Murray. "The all-around game that we're seeing this year is the maturation process of Patrick Kane as a player."
Kane is on this incredible run first and foremost because of his talent. Few players possess the combination of vision, speed, shiftiness and passing and shooting ability that he has.
But Kane has been ultratalented for years and has rarely come close to sniffing the top spots for goals or points. One obvious difference is the additions of Artemi Panarin and Artem Anisimov to his line. Opposing teams flat-out have no answer for a trio that has been carrying the Hawks all season.
"That line is just magicians with the pucks," Marian Hossa said Sunday after he, Kane and Panarin scored 3 goals in a two-minute blitz during the second period of the Hawks' 4-1 victory over the Calgary Flames. "It's fun, just not for the people watching, but also for our players on the bench. They're playing like a different level in this league."
Said Duncan Keith: "I think more than anything it's their style of play and their vision and patience with the puck that makes it hard for teams to defend against."
While having Panarin and Anisimov as linemates is certainly huge, Murray said another factor in Kane's development is what the 26-year-old has done to improve his own game.
"He's worked extremely hard on his strength and conditioning to have a better shot," Murray said. "He's really worked on his shot in the off-season to have it quicker, more accurate, harder. So his range of where he can score from has increased. Give him credit for that."
SOS … SOS
During his years with the Blackhawks, Murray had the unenviable task of going up against the greatest hockey player in the history of the world numerous times every season. He said that just keeping Wayne Gretzky to a couple of points a game was considered a win.
It's a different league now with scoring nowhere near what it was in the 1980s, but Murray said history is kind of repeating itself in that teams are finding it nearly impossible to keep Kane off the scoresheet.
"It's hard to have the respect in all the right avenues to shut him down," Murray said. "Because if you shut him down, that leaves other players open and he has that uncanny ability to find those players. If you take away the other options, then he has that unique 1-on-1 skill that very few players in the National Hockey League have.
"It's really difficult to try and figure out a way to completely shut him down when he's playing as well as he is right now."
Kane set his career-high points streak of 14 during the 2013-14 season. Amazingly, it followed a 12-game streak that was interrupted during a win in Dallas on Nov. 29. Had he gotten a point that night, Kane's run would have reached an incredible 27 games.
When the Hawks take the ice next -- Wednesday night at Edmonton -- Kane can tie his record. He would then have the chance to break it Friday in Calgary.
Where this goes the rest of the season should certainly be fun for Hawks fans to watch as they are seeing a different Patrick Kane, perhaps one who will turn into a perennial 50-goal, 100-point scorer.
And certainly one who will be competing for a host of trophies by season's end.
"If you look at where he's at, he is probably the most dynamic and best player in the National Hockey League," Murray said. "And that's the one thing that drove Wayne Gretzky. If he had 3 points, he wanted to have 4. And it wasn't putting it anybody's face or anything like that. That's just what he was all about. He just wanted to be the best on every shift that he was out there.
"You're kind of seeing that same mentality with Patrick Kane where I think he wants to be the best player in the NHL this year."