Patrick Kane brings big boost to Blackhawks' power play


Patrick Kane brings big boost to Blackhawks' power play

NASHVILLE – Patrick Kane was pretty happy with his first game back after seven weeks.

Sure, there was the expected rust – every player says you can skate all you want but you can’t simulate a game until you’re actually in a game again. But the impact of his return was certainly felt.

That impact was mostly seen on the Blackhawks’ power play, which scored twice in the second period – 5-on-3 and 5-on-4, with Kane assisting on each – as the Blackhawks came back to beat the Nashville Predators 4-3 in double overtime.

Even when the Blackhawks didn’t score on the power play, it looked much better than it had in the regular season’s final weeks. The Blackhawks not only couldn’t score on it at the time, they had trouble even setting up an attack or maintaining possession.

Kane’s return changed a lot of that.

“Obviously having Kane back will always help us, be it power play or 5 on 5,” said Jonathan Toews, who scored the second power-play goal to tie the game 3-3 at the time. “When it comes down to it, when we’re playing well and we’re all prepared, our power play’s usually reflective of that. Last night we took advantage of opportunities in the second to get back in the game. The two goals we got definitely gives us confidence and reminds us if we keep working, we get those changes and they eventually go in.”

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Kane played just over 23 minutes – including nearly six minutes of power-play time – of the double-overtime Game 1. He recorded four shots on goal. Kane said the rust, for him, was expected.

“The whole thing was timing, whether it’s with the puck, seeing certain plays, just little things like presenting yourself and getting a chance to get the puck in good space and moving your feet,” he said. “That was probably the biggest [issue].”

Kane teamed again with Kris Versteeg and Brad Richards, reuniting the trio that played so well earlier this season. The three didn’t recapture that magic in Game 1 but coach Joel Quenneville figures they’ll click again at some point.

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There’s no doubt, however, that Kane made an impact in his return. He just proved to give the Blackhawks the biggest advantage on the advantage.

“Top guys in the league have great patience with the puck, play recognition. They settle plays down and when you look like you’re out of it and scrambling, they’re trying to get a puck back,” Quenneville said. “He saves a lot of those loose puck battles, sustains play in the offensive zone. He gives opponents more to think about.”

Artemi Panarin thought he'd play whole career with Blackhawks

Artemi Panarin thought he'd play whole career with Blackhawks

The honest truth is that for the Blackhawks, Artemi Panarin is the one that got away. A new truth, perhaps harder to swallow, is that the "Breadman" never wanted to leave.

Following Wednesday night's 6-3 Hawks' loss to the Rangers, in which Panarin scored his 30th goal of the season, he told the Daily Herald's John Dietz that he expected to play his entire career in a Blackhawks sweater.

"When I played here in Chicago I [thought] I would play here my whole life," said Panarin, whose 79 points are good for fifth in the league this season. "And then that happened. It still confuses me."

Panarin, now 28, had 151 points (61 goals, 90 assists) with Chicago in two seasons after signing a free-agent contract on May 1, 2015. The winger previously played in the Kontinental Hockey League before winning the Calder Trophy in 2016 as the NHL's top rookie. 

Panarin immediately established an undeniable chemistry with Patrick Kane, which aided Kane in grabbing the Hart Trophy as the league's MVP in 2016.

"Obviously an amazing player, a player that you'd pay to watch play the game," Kane said of Panarin. "Still try to stay pretty close with him and stay in contact and just kind of catch up here and there throughout the season."

During his second season with Chicago, Panarin agreed to a two-year $12 million contract, he could have gotten more elsewhere. 

In June 2017, the Blackhawks traded the dynamic winger to the Columbus Blue Jackets, along with forward Tyler Motte and a draft pick, to re-acquire Brandon Saad and get goalie Anton Forsberg and a pick. 

"I was not ready for that," Panarin said. "It was a big surprise for me. I feel bad after trade."

Now, the man of bread is locked up for six more years after this one with the Rangers at an AAV north of $11.6 million and his contract has a no movement clause. 

"I love Chicago," Panarin said. "Nice every time I come here. Enjoy it. It's a great city and thanks [to] the fans for a warm welcome. I appreciate it."

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Lack of energy comes at wrong time for Blackhawks: 'Makes you angry'

Lack of energy comes at wrong time for Blackhawks: 'Makes you angry'

Effort has not been a major concern for the Blackhawks this season. For the most part it's been there, and you could see it over the last two months when they started to string together a run.

But Wednesday, it was.

The Blackhawks didn't have a great first period. They had a decent second. Things went off the rails in the third. 

The Blackhawks lost focus, and the compete level wasn't nearly where it needed to be in their first home game in exactly two weeks after giving up five third-period goals, four of which came in a span of 7:08.

"Makes you angry," head coach Jeremy Colliton said following a 6-3 loss to the New York Rangers. "Because it's a game that you're looking for like, we needed this game. We didn't do the things right from the start to put ourselves in the best position to win. We just didn't have enough guys ready to play."

The Blackhawks picked up two out of a possible 10 points on their five-game road trip in Western Canada, but that wasn't necessarily indicative of how they played. All five games were there for the taking but they squandered opportunities to do so. A power-play goal here or there could've been the difference, but instead their drought is now up to 0-for-17 in their past six games.

It was a tough road trip for the Blackhawks, not just because they didn't get the desired results, but because it was a demanding travel schedule that started and ended in Winnipeg. But they wouldn't use that as an excuse even though it's a valid one at this time of year.

"To me, the story of the game tonight is, you're going to have games throughout the year where you don't have energy, where it's hard to find," Jonathan Toews said. "You've got to find the motivation to go out there and play your best game. It's just a mental thing that you have to do and that's just the name of the game, playing NHL hockey. That's one of the challenging things that if you want to make the playoffs and you want to be a winning team you're not going to feel at your best every night.

"There's going to be tough travel, tough schedule, a lot of adversity, things that pile up in your way and you've got to find a way to overcome it. So we didn't do that tonight." 

With Wednesday's loss, the Blackhawks fell to 1-5-2 in their past eight games after going 12-5-0 in their previous 17. They remain eight points out of the final wildcard spot in the Western Conference but have four teams to jump, two of which have a game in hand.

Playoffs seem like a pipedream at this point, and you have to wonder how this latest spiral could impact the Blackhawks' plans ahead of the Feb. 24 trade deadline. It's always a challenging time of year for players, especially on teams on the outside looking in, but that doesn't mean it's time to wave the white flag.

"We have to think really short-term," Colliton said. "And that's tomorrow, how are we going to prepare? Because we didn't prepare well enough. The coaches have to do a better job of preparing the team, the team needs to do a better job of preparing each other, and individually they've got to do a better job of preparing themselves to play."

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