The Chicago Blackhawks may still be up 2-1 in their series with the Los Angeles Kings, but instead of focusing on that series lead, most of the media’s gaze seems affixed to two Hawks players: Duncan Keith and Patrick Kane.
Obviously, Keith missing Game 4 because of a suspension is a big story, but Kane’s prominent status in the narrative heading up to Thursday night’s contest is equally interesting. His recent struggles in the scoring department are common knowledge at this point (only two points in the Hawks’ last seven games, and averaging three-and-a-half shots on goal per game over that span), and with that in mind, various Chicago scribes weighed in on the situation.
Mark Lazerus of the Chicago Sun-Times summed things up thusly:
“Kane’s never been a guy hurting for confidence. But with two goals in 15 playoff games, one point in his last five games, and mired in a seven-game drought, his frustration level is rising…Kane’s absence was particularly conspicuous in Game 3, when the Hawks offense mustered just 20 shots on Jonathan Quick.”
Head coach Joel Quenneville seemed more preoccupied with Kane’s overall effort, and CSN Chicago’s Tracey Myers had that part of the story:
“It seems like the top guys, finding a way to score or be productive has been challenging. But I think if you’re contributing in other ways, the team game you can hang your hat on, it’s something to look for. That’s what we’re looking for and hopefully there’s some production along with it.”
Finally, 670 the Score’s Adam Hoge had this prescription for what ails Kane:
“The winger said he needs to create more room for himself, which he can do by supporting the puck and using his linemates to his advantage. And once he does gain possession of the puck, he said he needs “will power” to go score.”
Supporting the puck is something that Kane hasn’t done much of in recent games. While some will chalk it up to some sort of “laziness” on the part of Kane, the better definition is that his passivity is what’s causing some of his issues. In Game 3, Kane seemed to be floating more in the offensive zone than actively trying to pursue the puck, and while that strategy can work if you’re with a puck hawk like Jonathan Toews or Marian Hossa who win puck battles quickly and can find open teammates, it doesn’t work with guys like Patrick Sharp, who is more content to shoot from the wings than passing it to the middle.
With that in mind, the Hawks have two options if they want to increase Kane’s offensive potential. The first of those is to simply get it into his head that he needs to take more charge of his own destiny in that area. Kane himself seems to get that, saying in Hoge’s piece that he needs to “stop thinking that maybe this is going to be the game or the next game is going to be the game. Just make sure my next opportunity is when it’s going to happen.”
If waiting around for Kane to find his scoring touch isn’t the direction Quenneville wants to go in, then he could always decide to pair Kane back up with Toews on the top line. That move seemed to do the trick in Game 5 of the series against the Detroit Red Wings, when Kane had seven shots on goal and arguably looked more assertive and comfortable on the ice than he had at any point during the playoffs.
Obviously, Kane is a once in a generation challenge who has had his share of special moments with the Blackhawks. With his team shorthanded against the Kings, he is going to need to step up his game, and he clearly is aware of his importance to Chicago’s chances.