Patrick Kane’s been here before — in the thick of the race for the scoring title, in the conversation for the Hart Trophy, in the zone.
He was here during the lockout-shortened 2013 season, before a relatively quiet March dropped him out of the picture. He was here at this same point last season, the league’s first star of the month in both November and December, before fading in January with an 11-game goal drought, and then getting injured.
“It seems like I’ve been in this position a couple times before, where I’m right around there, and it kind of slips off for whatever reason,” Kane said. “You try not to think about that stuff, about winning a scoring title or winning anything like that.”
Kane’s made no secret over the years that a scoring title is among his individual goals, something that drives him to work harder and get better. Maybe 100 points, too. Forty goals, as well. And while recent history suggests Kane might not be able to sustain the remarkable pace he’s on, anyone watching Kane play all season would think otherwise.
In his last 26 games, Kane has 16 goals and 19 assists, rocketing him to third place on the league scoring list with 45 points, just four back of league-leader Jakub Voracek of the Philadelphia Flyers, and two behind Dallas center Tyler Seguin.
What’s most eye-catching is the goal total — 20 at the halfway point of the season, on pace for an even 40. For all his skill and all his highlight-reel goals — spin-o-ramas and roofed backhanders and dangles through the defense — he’s only hit the 30-goal mark once, in the 2009-10 season (when he also had a career-high 88 points). He’s been consistent, with at least 20 goals in each of his eight seasons, but not prolific.
It’s been different this season. Always labeled a playmaker, Kane is becoming a true goal-scorer, too.
“I think when I was a younger kid, especially coming into the NHL, I always kind of viewed myself more as a goal-scorer,” said Kane, who had 62 goals in 58 games in his one season of junior hockey. “But as I came into the league, I was more of a playmaker, and I think that’s just the way it kind of developed. Who knows why?”
Well, it’s not hard to see why his game is evolving. After years of a revolving door of centers, including defensive-minded guys such as Michal Handzus and Marcus Kruger, Kane finally has a playmaker of his own beside him, Brad Richards. It’s no coincidence that Kane’s scoring binge has coincided with those two being put on the same line. Kane insists that he didn’t mind playing with different guys over the past few seasons, but freely admitted that Richards has been a difference-maker for him.
“Yeah, it helps, for sure,” Kane said. “I’ve really enjoyed playing with Richie, and I think we’e done a lot of good things.”
Hawks coach Joel Quenneville has noticed Kane working more on his shot in practices, too, honing his one-timer on the power play, becoming more than just a stick-handler, finding holes in the offensive zone from which to shoot. It’s something he’s gotten better at each year.
“You look at Kaner’s career, the way he came into the league as an 18-year-old,” said Patrick Sharp, who has undergone his own evolution from a pure shooter to a more well-rounded offensive player. “I know he scored  goals as a rookie, but he really wasn’t a goal-scorer at that time. He was more of a playmaker. That was his bread and butter. You look at him now, he’s a threat all over the ice.”
It’s made one of the league’s most dangerous players that much more scary for opposing teams to defend, especially when the top line of Brandon Saad, Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa is clicking as it has been, forcing coaches to pick their poison in terms of defensive matchups.
Kane’s enjoying the run, and hoping that this time it will last all season. He’s not dwelling on the scoring race, but he’d certainly like to win it. And as for those seemingly unreachable benchmarks — 40 goals, or 100 points? Well, why not?
“I don’t know if you ever really want to set any type of limitation or any type of goals,” he said. “You just want to get as many as you can.”