Blackhawks’ Patrick Kane, Nick Schmaltz continue where they left off last season

SHARE Blackhawks’ Patrick Kane, Nick Schmaltz continue where they left off last season
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immy Howard #35 of the Detroit Red Wings makes a save against Patrick Kane #88 of the Chicago Blackhawks during a preseason game at the United Center on September 25, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois. | Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Right wing Patrick Kane received a cross-ice pass from fellow winger Nick Schmaltz and raced toward the net on the power play Tuesday night at the United Center. Seconds later, Kane fired a vintage pass through traffic back to Schmaltz, who tapped it behind Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard.

It was just how they practiced.

“We always talk about coming in with speed on the power-play breakout, and there’s a good chance to score off the rush because you have one or two guys beat [and] usually have an odd-man rush,” Schmaltz said Wednesday. “A lot of times you just try to set it up.”

The goal, which was the Hawks’ second power-play goal of the game, looked smooth. That’s in part because of the chemistry Kane and Schmaltz have been able to develop in two seasons together.

In 78 games last season, Kane and Schmaltz skated nearly 750 minutes together in five-on-five play, according to the website naturalstattrick.com. Kane assisted on 11 of Schmaltz’s 21 goals last season. Schmaltz had a hand in nine of Kane’s 27 goals.

“We read off each other pretty well,” Schmaltz said. “We have a sense of where each other are on the ice at all times. We like to play the sides in those offensive zones. We like to play east to west, try to find teams where we can find each other and move off each other and create space.”

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Like last season, Artem Anisimov is centering for the two wingers. Schmaltz said it has become easier to read where he needs to be and when for Kane.

“It’s definitely coming more naturally,” Schmaltz said. “Hopefully, we can keep going and just not having to think too much out there and just play.”

The Hawks will lean on the duo’s connection. They’re expected to play an important role on the new top power-play unit, which coach Joel Quenneville has praised.

“Our power play did some really nice things, off the rush, on entries,” Quenneville said of the unit’s performance Tuesday. “We shot the puck. We had net presence. We had retrievals. We had some different plays and different looks. It was good.”

During training camp, the Hawks have put an emphasis on improving their power play, which was ninth-worst in the league last season with a conversion rate of 15.99 percent.

Schmaltz believes his chemistry with Kane will help improve it.

“Hopefully, we can continue to create chances off the rush and take advantage of the speed we have,” Schmaltz said.

NOTES: The Hawks assigned forwards Victor Ejdsell, Alexandre Fortin and Matthew Highmore to Rockford and 18-year-old defenseman Adam Boqvist to the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League.

After those cuts, the Hawks training-camp roster stands at 27 players: 14 forwards, nine defensemen and four goalies. In reality, the roster is at 25 because defensemen Connor Murphy and Gustav Forsling and goalie Corey Crawford are expected to begin the season on injured reserve.

With Boqvist gone, the Hawks’ seven defensemen on their opening-night roster likely will be Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Brandon Davidson, Brandon Manning, Henri Jokiharju, Jan Rutta and Erik Gustafsson.

• Coach Joel Quenneville plans to have goalie Anton Forsberg start in the preseason game Thursday against the Senators. Forsberg allowed two goals — including one short-handed — after he replaced starter Cam Ward in the third period of the Hawks’ ugly 8-6 loss to the Red Wings on Tuesday.

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