March 12, 2017

Blackhawks’ Patrick Kane is till the NHL’s Most Valuable

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The league's reigning Hart Trophy winner, Patrick Kane, continues to evolve his game night in and night out.

For all of the natural talent Patrick Kane possesses, the league’s reigning MVP, in many ways, remains unsatisfied.

Kane spends each night searching. Endlessly searching for strategic secrets that will help elevate his game to the next level. Already a three-time Stanley Cup champion at age 28, Kane is steadfast in his belief that his performance requires constant tweaking.

It is within that workspace that Kane showcases his brightest and best abilities.

Only a year removed from a career-best 106-point season, Kane trailed only the Oilers Connor McDavid among the NHL’s points leaders through Friday. As the regular season prepares to approach its stretch run and Chicago’s postseason rite of spring awaits, Kane has once again found his stride as the Blackhawks gain ground on the Minnesota Wild, the Western Conference leaders.

Entering Sunday’s showdown at the United Center against Minnesota, Chicago had won 12 of 15 games since Feb. 1 — Sunday, the Blackhawks defeated the Wild 4-2. Kane scored in the contest, his 30th goal of the season.

Sunday was the 10th goal Kane’s scored in eight games, he credits his good fortune on a combination of fortunate bounces and his linemates’ generosity. It’s an attitude his teammates recognize as part of his pursuit of perfection.

“He just makes everything look so easy,” rookie center Nick Schmaltz said of Kane. “He finds guys, he’s got a sneaky good release, and he always knows where he’s putting the puck.”

Even on the road to compiling a team-leading 73 points, Kane remains conscious to the fact that he isn’t the only player required to collect points to ensure a Blackhawks victory. He skates alongside Artemi Panarin and Artem Anisimov, which coach Joel Quenneville has designated at the team’s second line, despite the fact they are often the first line to take the ice. However, the Kane-Panarin-Anisimov combination has, at times, been overshadowed by a top line of Schmaltz, Jonathan Toews and Richard Panik.

Kane, too, credits the Schmaltz line for being as equally responsible for Chicago’s recent surge up the conference standings. He routinely draws inspiration from the play of the trio.

“When you see other guys score, there’s definitely some internal competition,” Kane said. “If you see someone else have a big night, have a big game or score early on in a game, you want to do something yourself.”

As has been the case in each of their three Stanley Cup titles since 2010, balance and depth factor heavily in the Blackhawks’ success. Perhaps more than in the past, when Kane’s production has produced deep postseason runs for the team, Chicago’s offensive production from night to night has come from beyond the list of usual suspects — seven Chicago scorers have at least 15 goals to Kane’s 30.

“That’s always been one of our strengths is having two lines where your opponents are not quite sure which line they want to check or which is the most dangerous,” Quenneville said. “That depth is very important. There’s always going to be something concerning for your opponents when you have a one-two tandem.”

While he remains a key contributor to Chicago’s offense, now in his 10th NHL season, Kane’s nightly production speaks to the true tone of his continued evolvement.

Once regarded as a player who preferred to pass the puck over taking shots, Kane spends hours reviewing scores of video clips seeking out ways to put shots on goal from angles that his counterparts would find difficult, perhaps even impossible. That trait was first displayed during the 2010 Stanley Cup Final, when Kane scored this Cup-winning goal that nobody saw coming:

In the years since, craftiness has become a key component of Kane’s strategy, which effectively mixes personal skill with the ability to involve any of the scoring options around him. Place Kane in the middle of an odd-man rush, and you’ll quickly find the opposition’s defense and goalie at his mercy from his bag of tricks.

“It’s a big thing, especially now — if you’re going to score a goal, you have to be deceptive,” Kane said. “You have to be a threat to maybe pass or shoot.”

A master of all environments, Kane also leads the Blackhawks in assists. His uncanny ability to involve teammates when the opposition is expecting a shot has not only helped to spread the point production throughout Chicago’s lineup, but has become a staple of his game.

During a recent three-game stretch where Kane scored seven goals and two hat tricks, much of his success came via the unexpected. Kane frequently skated in one direction while shooting the puck in the complete opposite, or fired a puck at an unsuspecting goalie without allowing his eyes to give away his motives.

“I don’t think at any point that if everyone else is scoring, it takes any pressure off of him,” said Toews, the Blackhawks’ captain. “One way or the other, he puts that pressure on himself every game. Even if things are going well, he’s striving to get more out of himself.”

Toews added, “I don’t expect that to change any time soon.”

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