BUFFALO, N.Y. – When Patrick Kane departed Buffalo in mid-September, he did so facing a myriad of questions.
At that time Kane was the subject of a rape investigation. How that would unfold was unknown. What the Blackhawks were going to do with their right wing, outside of starting the season with him, was unknown.
Since then, some questions have been answered. The investigation against him was dropped in early November. The Blackhawks have stated that Kane is part of their long-term future. Now we’ll see Buffalo’s reaction to Kane’s return when the Blackhawks face the Sabres on Saturday afternoon.
On the ice, Kane has been great. Entering Friday’s games, he led the NHL in points (47), was tied for the league lead in assists (28, with Erik Karlsson) and was one shy of the league lead in goals (19), shared by Jamie Benn and Vladimir Tarasenko (20). His 26-game point streak, a new franchise record, ended against the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday.
Kane was in the midst of his streak when general manager Stan Bowman was asked if Kane was part of the Blackhawks’ long-term future.
“Absolutely,” Bowman said in late November. “You can’t find talent like that. You look at what he’s done over the course of his career, whether it’s this season, last season or since he was a rookie. He won rookie of the year. He’s been a game changer. He’s one of those guys that, I’ve said it a lot over the years, he’s able to elevate his game in pressure moments. Not too many guys are able to do that.
"Sometimes when the pressure gets on, they have a hard time performing, but he’s sort of the opposite. He seems to raise his game.”
Fan reaction to Kane on previous road visits varied. Some audiences did nothing audibly noticeable. Some booed. Some took part in unsettling chants. But Saturday’s game won’t be in the buildings in which Kane was disliked well before last summer. It’ll be in his hometown, and one would think the crowd will have a positive reaction to Kane.
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Asked if Kane’s return to Buffalo now would be any different considering this past summer, coach Joel Quenneville didn’t foresee it.
“He’s gone through, I’d say, five months of a lot of attention. He’s gone through a busy stretch here,” Quenneville said. “I don’t know if it’s going to be much different.”