Patrick Kane’s defense always has been a little underrated. The same quick feet and even quicker hands that make him one of the league’s great offensive weapons also serve him well at the other end of the ice. In fact, he’s currently second on the Blackhawks in takeaways with 13, just one behind Marian Hossa, a gold standard of defensive forwards.
And Kane takes pride in that, too.
“I think my defense has improved pretty much every year since I came in the league — that’s one of the things you try to pride yourself on, getting the puck back and [creating] some offense off it,” he said. “Playing with good players, you learn a little bit more. I wouldn’t be doing that in my first couple years in the league, obviously.”
But that’s not Kane’s primary role. And it’s not why he just got a massive contract extension. It is, however, one of Jonathan Toews’ primary roles. And it’s one of the reasons why he just got the same massive contract extension. But now that the two have been on the same line for the last four games, Kane is finding himself being intentionally matched up by Joel Quenneville against the opponents’ best players. Against Washington, that line matched up with Alex Ovechkin. Against San Jose, it matched up with Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton.
On the one hand, it’s a challenge that Kane relishes. On the other, it’s not necessarily conducive to snapping Kane out of his mini scoring slump. Kane has just one goal in his last 11 games, and for the season has just four even-strength points (two goals, two assists).
“Well, we’re generating,” Kane said. “I think we’ve kind of been in a different role the last couple games, where it seems like we’re playing against some of their top guys. … You’ve got to make sure you’re responsible defensively. You know [Toews] is going to draw that top defensive matchup, and playing against their top line, too.”
When Toews was skating with Patrick Sharp and Hossa, Quenneville had no hesitation using it as a shutdown checking line. He’s showing the same confidence in Toews’ line now that he’s flanked by two more offensive-minded wingers, Kris Versteeg and Kane. In the past, Quenneville always has preferred to keep Toews and Kane separated, because the loaded top line usually drew the toughest assignment, giving Kane’s line a more favorable matchup. But the team’s early season scoring woes forced Quenneville’s hand, and he’s giving the duo an extended (by his standards, at least) chance to show they should stick together.
“If you check well, I think the quality [of chances] at the other end is going to be enhanced, as well,” Quenneville said.
It’s a fine line to walk.
“It definitely can be at times,” said Versteeg, who played a similar role in Florida and who was a third-line checker in his first stint with the Hawks. “Especially when you’re playing against some of the teams where they’re offensively explosive.”
Kane expects the goals to come regardless of whom he’s up against, and said he’s long past the point of frustration. In Tuesday’s win over Tampa Bay, Kane had several good scoring chances, including one on which he beat goaltender Ben Bishop, only to have the puck stop on the goal line before Valtteri Filppula swept it away. It’s been that kind of run for Kane, but he feels the floodgates will open any day now.
And it might just start in his own end.
“I’ve just got to keep working, kind of fight through it, and keep generating those chances,” Kane said. “And hopefully sooner rather than later, it finds the back of the net, and I can get rolling here.”
NOTE: Johnny Oduya, who was hurt blocking a shot Tuesday, was back on the ice for Thursday’s practice and will play Friday in Detroit. Corey Crawford gets the start in net.