SAN JOSE, Calif. — By any reasonable definition of the term, Patrick Kane is having a good season. He entered Thursday’s game against the Sharks with 23 goals and 35 assists — both team-highs — in 63 games. He’s been far and away the Hawks’ best and most reliable offensive player, and he’s doing it while drawing more attention than ever before thanks to some of his teammates’ struggles.
But Kane doesn’t have a reasonable definition of the term. Not after posting 106 points and winning the Hart Trophy as league MVP in 2015-16. Not after following that up with an 89-point campaign, tied with Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby, second behind Edmonton’s Connor McDavid.
The fact is, Kane is 26th in the league in scoring, tied with the likes of Calgary’s Sean Monahan and Vegas’ Reilly Smith. He has just three power-play goals, tied with Richard Panik, Anthony Duclair and dozens of others for 133rd in the league. He has just three goals in his last 17 games. And after five straight seasons of a point-a-game or better, he’s on pace for 75 points.
Kane knows the numbers. He mentioned the 106- and 89-point seasons. He even knew that he had 37 power-play points during his MVP season, and just 17 so far this season. Those are his standards now, that’s the bar.
And Kane is well aware that he’s not reaching it this season.
“It’s a little bit different,” Kane said after Thursday’s morning skate in San Jose. “With those two seasons, obviously, I had chemistry with a player like I never had chemistry with anyone before. That player’s gone now, and you’re trying to build it up with other players. Sometimes, you think it’s there, and other times, it’s a work in progress.”
“That player,” of course, is Artemi Panarin, who was dealt to the Columbus Blue Jackets last June in a (so far) ill-fated traded for Brandon Saad and Anton Forsberg. Kane and Panarin had an uncanny mental link on the ice, two uber-creative wingers who routinely made plays that few other players would even consider. One of Kane’s best on-ice traits is his ability to produce no matter who’s on his line. But Panarin undeniably brought him to new heights. Playing with Tomas Jurco in that spot isn’t quite the same.
Joel Quenneville pointed out how much attention Kane draws from opponents and praised him for his work ethic and preparation. But even he admitted he expects more from Kane, fair or not.
“He finds a way every year to get a little bit better,” Quenneville said. “This is the one year where I don’t know if he went to that next level.”
This has been a season of what-ifs for the Hawks, none bigger than what if Corey Crawford hadn’t been hurt in December. And it’s only human for Kane to wonder what if he still had Panarin.
“That’s dangerous thinking,” he cautioned. “You start thinking about that stuff and you’re really off base with where you need to be. So not really. Maybe a little bit. If anything, you think about what you did in the past with him, and try to replicate it with someone else. Or at least get some ideas from that.”
The most obvious candidate is Nick Schmaltz, a creative playmaker who has had good success as Kane’s center (and left wing) throughout the season. But with Artem Anisimov unable to produce on any other line, Kane and Schmaltz haven’t been able to play together night in and night out, like Kane and Panarin did.
But Kane believes the duo can make magic together.
“I don’t want to put any pressure on him or myself, but I think it can be even better,” Kane said. “With his speed up the middle and the way he backs off defenders, there could be even more opportunities for plays on the rush. It definitely has potential. We’ll work on it, whether it’s the rest of the year or even this summer.”
There have been flashes. In December, Kane had a stretch of six goals and seven assists in 10 games, with Schmaltz on his line for nearly all of them. Kane knows he’s still that player, that the bar is still reachable.
He just has to prove he can do it without Panarin.
“At some point this year, I was actually playing some of the best hockey I’ve ever played,” he said. “It’s just kind of gone downhill after that. It’s been disappointing.”
By Kane’s standards, at least, if no one else’s.
Follow me on Twitter @MarkLazerus