Fans were treated to the vintage Patrick Kane in New York as the Chicago Blackhawks took down the Buffalo Sabres 2-1 on Sunday night. The shifty winger provided one of his typical highlight-reel plays on the first goal of the game, fooling Christian Ehrhoff with a one-handed move and firing a shot past Jhonas Enroth‘s glove hand.
You’ll notice I used the word “typical.” Unfortunately, plays and production such as what we saw from Kane in Buffalo on Sunday night haven’t been the norm lately. Prior to the tilt, Kane was mired in a lengthy scoring slump which saw him score only four goals and 12 points in 22 games.
It wasn’t so much the decline in scoring output that was the problem for Kane. Many players will have spells where they are, as they say, “snakebitten”; put differently, the player is still generating plenty of offense, but is simply being stonewalled by good goaltending or bad luck.
No, the chief concern with Kane’s slump was that he wasn’t generating much in the way of offensive opportunities. He was constantly fumbling the puck and turning it over, making questionable passes, and on the whole being mostly invisible on the offensive end of the ice. Unsurprisingly, Kane’s decline in play was accompanied by a pronounced dip in the Blackhawks’ winning ways.
On Sunday night in Buffalo, Kane looked like himself again. He churned out scoring chances for Chicago regularly despite still being inexplicably saddled by Joel Quenneville with Chicago’s worst roster player in Michal Handzus, and could have had several goals himself if not for a few quality saves from Enroth.
It is undeniable that having a capable linemate to work with (Patrick Sharp) is important for Chicago’s No. 88 to be at his best, and it has contributed to him seemingly waking from the extended stupor. It is senseless to put Kane, an elite playmaker and creator, on a line with two players who will only drag him down on the offensive end.
Such has been the case for months with Kris Versteeg (evidently still recovering from ACL surgery) and the aforementioned Handzus. The onus, then, is on Quenneville to realize and respect this: the Blackhawks, after all, are a much better team when Patrick Kane is playing like Patrick Kane.