Patrick Kane (Bill Smith/NHLI via Getty Images)
Patrick Kane’s point streak was snapped at 26 games Tuesday, but it could actually benefit the Blackhawks. Chicago’s offense was guilty of forcing plays Kane’s way Tuesday, and there’s no more need to look for the pretty play to Kane now in situations where simple, straight-line offense could work.
Patrick Kane’s point streak is no more. After 26 games, Kane’s remarkable run came to a close Tuesday when he was held pointless — and failed to even muster a shot on goal — in the Blackhawks shutout defeat at the hands of the Colorado Avalanche. But the end to Kane’s streak could be good news for Chicago.
Whether the Blackhawks would be willing to admit it or not, it was evident the point streak was beginning to consume the entire team. It was the talk of every pre- and post-game show, Kane was asked about it on every occasion and not a single member of the team — from players to coaches to management — could escape questions about Kane’s run. Even Kane himself admitted it was becoming a distraction.
"I can just focus on playing hockey and it'll be nice not to talk about it anymore," Kane told NHL.com’s Brian Hedger post-game. "When you have to talk about it every day, it gets a little taxing, but I'm excited just to play hockey now.”
It’s not just Kane who can focus on playing hockey, though: the same goes for the rest of the Blackhawks. At times, the group around Kane seemed more concerned with keeping his streak alive than they did winning games.
Surely, the streak itself was something to behold, but it wasn’t kept alive because Kane was dazzling every game. That’s been especially true over the last five outings. In Game 22, Chicago rookie Artemi Panarin fired a gutsy half-ice wrist shot into an empty net when he could have killed more time. In Game 23, Kane fired a puck into an empty net from the Chicago blueline — a play that would have been icing had he missed. There were bizarre points, like Game 24 when a play that could have been whistled down resulted in a Kane goal, and Game 26, when Kane’s secondary assist came on a play he hadn’t been involved in for 10 seconds.
There are obvious reasons why the Chicago offense runs through Kane — his impeccable puck handling and laser wrist shot among them — but it was evident as Tuesday’s game wore on the Blackhawks were making a point of getting Kane his touches. At what cost, who knows, but it stuck out like a sore thumb in the third period.
With Chicago on a power play down 2-0, Panarin had a great shooting lane with Artem Anisimov posted in front of the net. Panarin didn’t shoot, instead holding the puck and forcing a pass across the ice to Kane. On the same man advantage, Duncan Keith made an ill-advised pass in an attempt to find Kane that nearly resulted in a shorthanded 2-on-1 for Colorado. Seconds later, Panarin again attempted a cross-ice pass that had no business being made in order to try to get the puck to Kane. Again, the puck was turned over, and the Blackhawks top power play unit left the ice.
Down two goals with a third period power play, the Blackhawks wasted the first minute of a man advantage on three passes that probably shouldn’t have been made, all of which were directed toward Kane.
You can’t fault anyone for trying. Kane’s streak was incredible — something no one would have expected to see in the modern NHL from a player not named Sidney Crosby. Kane’s teammates wanted to see it continue. But in a close game, Chicago squandered the man advantage and, ultimately, lost the game.
But with the streak over, the need to force the puck Kane’s way is through. Panarin has been guilty on more than a few occasions of thinking pass when Kane is on the ice, and the same goes for others. If Chicago’s offensive players concern themselves with looking for the best play and not just the ones that involve their formerly streaking star, it could result in an offense that starts scoring at a more Blackhawks-esque pace. If plays are happening more organically, Chicago could benefit greatly.
The end to the streak could mean coach Joel Quenneville looks at ways to jumpstart the rest of his offense. Through 32 games, the Blackhawks offense has been just average with 2.66 goals per game, 12th-best in the league. At this point in 2014-15, Chicago had 11 more goals and a significantly better goal differential.
In all three of Chicago’s Stanley Cup victories, one of the greatest strengths of the team has been its depth, but that’s been almost non-existent this season. Beyond Kane, the Blackhawks only have one forward who has more than 20 points, Panarin, who has nine goals and 29 points. Anisimov, with 11 goals and 18 points, is the next closest. Kane’s streak, and his play alongside Panarin and Anisimov, has accounted for the bulk of the Blackhawks’ offense.
Jonathan Toews is the only other forward with more than 15 points — he has nine goals and 17 points in 32 games — but it has been, by far, his worst offensive season. In no season has Toews scored at a points-per-game clip lower than .81. He’s at .53 through 32 games this campaign. It gets even uglier down the lineup, though. After Marian Hossa, Teuvo Teravainen and Andrew Shaw, no Blackhawks forward has more than five points. Chicago isn’t getting contributions from their third- and fourth-line.
Kane’s streak coming to a close — and in a game Chicago was shutout — can give Quenneville reason to juggle his lines and try to spread out the offense. Maybe shifting his forward units can spark Toews, Hossa and potentially give the bottom-six some life. The Blackhawks aren’t bound for another deep post-season run if they’re not getting depth contributions, and mixing up what was working, at least as far as Kane was concerned, could have serious benefit in the long run.