Throughout the month of July, Madhouse Enforcer will be taking a look at various members of the 2013 Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks. What did they do right? What did they do wrong? What can they improve upon next season? We’ll answer all those questions and more in the lead-up to Blackhawks Convention, which starts July 26th.
Today’s featured player is Conn Smythe winner Patrick Kane
Whenever any writer or pundit discusses the 2013 Chicago Blackhawks, one narrative that will appear over and over is the maturation that Kane went through when he was playing overseas during the NHL lockout.
Unlike other beaten to death stories like the Corey Crawford glove situation, this one at least is accurate. Kane has limited his off-ice distractions, and his on-ice play has continued to improve.
He came out of the gate like a house on fire and stayed that way, ending up with 55 points in 47 games and putting himself into reasonable contention for the Hart Trophy for the first time in his career.
Add to that the fact that he won playoff MVP honors over the aforementioned Crawford, and it’s pretty easy to see that Kane had an outstanding season. The question, though, is what exactly did he do differently that caused so many people to take notice of his play?
The answer, it seems, is that he came through in big spots for the Hawks. Just about everyone remembers his late goal in the third period of a regular season game against the Detroit Red Wings that tied the contest. He also scored a nifty shootout goal in that game to give the Hawks the victory.
Kane also had a hat trick in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals against the Los Angeles Kings. The final goal came on a 2-on-1 rush in double overtime, and put the Hawks in the Stanley Cup Final for the second time in four years.
Finally, his performance in Game 5 of the Cup Final against the Boston Bruins was pitch-perfect. With the two teams tied 2-2 in the series, Kane came out of the gate firing, and ended up scoring the first two goals in a 3-1 Hawks victory. He also had six shots on goal and played nearly 21 minutes of ice time in the triumph.
Whether or not there is such a thing as “clutch” players has been endlessly debated in an era where new statistical metrics are coming into vogue, but judging by his performances in some big situations this year, it’s pretty clear that Kane is no longer the guy who pulls off the flashy plays and makes splashes off the ice. He’s a serious hockey player, and might very well be the best American player in the game today.
There isn’t a lot to be critical about with Kane’s game, but there is one thing that he is going to need to work on for next season, and that is his fluctuating level of effort defensively.
In most games this season, Kane did a very good job of aggressively pursuing the puck in the neutral zone, both on the forecheck and the backcheck, but there were intervals in which he looked slightly disinterested.
That could very well be par for the course with a player who is so active on offense and is constantly moving without the puck, but that kind of effort can also lead to scoring opportunities going the other way when the opposition is able to get an easy zone entry without the kind of pressure that the Hawks’ forwards tend to put on the puck.
If Kane is going to hang back on defense, then he isn’t playing up to the caliber he is capable of playing to, and it does a disservice to the team.
Best Game of 2013:
Most people would point to Game 5 against the Los Angeles Kings as Kane’s best game of the season, but we are actually going to go with the game before that, which took place at Staples Center.
In that game, the Hawks were down 2-1 late in the second period, and without suspended defenseman Duncan Keith, when Kane took over the contest. He scored a late goal in that frame to tie the game up, diving into the crease on a great rush, and ended up with seven shots on goal in the game.
He also stepped up his defensive effort in a big way, aggressively forechecking and wreaking havoc on the Kings’ passing game. Los Angeles ended up with two shots on goal in the third period of the game, and the Hawks were able to take a 3-1 series lead back to Chicago.
The effort propelled Kane through the rest of the playoffs, and his Smythe-winning postseason hit its apex after the Game 4 victory.
Outlook for 2013-14:
2013 may have been a crazy year for NHL players, with the lockout forcing many overseas and then the compressed schedule pushing bodies to the breaking point, but 2013-14 may promise to be even more crazy.
That’s because in spite of the fact that a traditional 82 game should be less compact than the 48 game slate, it actually won’t be. That’s because NHL players are likely going to participate in the 2014 Winter Olympics, and when they last played in 2010, the schedule was incredibly grueling.
For guys like Kane, who will suit up for Team USA unless he’s injured, the season will be even more difficult. Factoring in the travel to and from Russia, as well as the extra games on his legs, will mean that the team could be running on fumes by the time the playoffs start, and that’s never a surefire recipe for success.
The key for Kane will be to make liberal use of his off days, and for head coach Joel Quenneville to limit his minutes slightly, especially in the second game of back-to-back contests. That way, Kane can remain aggressive on both sides of the puck, and be at his most effective when his team needs him the most.