Is Patrick Kane’s offense back?
If you had known three weeks ago that it would take Patrick Kane six games to score his first goal of the season for the Chicago Blackhawks, the consensus probably would have been, “Man, the Hawks are in trouble.”
That’s because they struggled for goals, specifically five for five, during a 1-5-0 preseason.
But the Hawks are 4-2-0 and on a four-game winning streak after a 4-2 win over the Florida Panthers Tuesday at the United Center.
The Hawks averaged 3.3 goals per game and tied for 12th in the league with the Carolina Hurricanes. But they’ve only scored eight five-a-sides and tied for 30th place with the Arizona Coyotes, showing how the Hawks cobble together offense in every imaginable way: shorthanded, penalties, empty nets — it’s all trending at the table.
Three players illustrate the Hawks’ surprise start.
When the Hawks traded Alex DeBrincat this summer, there were concerns about how it would affect their offense in general and Kane’s game in particular.
Of Kane’s 66 points last season, DeBrincat either scored or had an assist on 48.
So, with Kane going five games this season without a goal, the question arose as to whether new linemates Andreas Athanasiou and Max Domi could back him up.
That ended in the first half on Tuesday when Athanasiou caught the attention of defenders and Kane hit from below the goal line, and Kane lifted the puck into the far corner and pumped his fists.
“I felt good,” Kane said after the game. “It came off the bench at the change and a nice play from AA to drive it wide at his speed and pull it behind the net and (for me it’s) just trying to find an area and get a shot .”
Coach Luke Richardson added: “You saw (Kane) looking forward to a goal. He’s used to goals. This team is used to him scoring. We need him for that.
“But to show at the beginning of the year that maybe we can score in different ways and with different lines will take the pressure off him to just play his game and not force anything and just do what he did tonight. ”
With four assists and five points, Kane is on his way to 68 points. And before the game, he took a similar stance to Richardson. On Tuesday, 10 other Hawks had at least one goal.
“You always want to feel the pressure that the team needs from you, right?” Kane said. “And you always want to perform every night, whether that’s pressure from the team or the pressure you put on yourself. But that’s how you have to win in this league. You need input from everyone and you can’t just rely on two or three people.”
Before the game, Richardson was certain that Kane would be back on track soon, which would increase the pressure on the defense, especially on the power play. Seth Jones fired more shots from the point and the rest of the unit benefited from rebounds.
Against the Seattle Kraken on Sunday, Tyler Johnson was in the right place at the right time to score from the left flank, but that puck might as well have bounced in Kane’s path.
“That’s going to collapse and shrink (and) narrow the PK,” Richardson said. “You have to honor those areas and that will only give Patrick more time on the sides to make plays.
“If you give this guy time, things will happen.”
The numbers tell you Stalock is 3-1-0 with a .938 saving ratio and 2.09 goals against average after Tuesday’s win.
The eyes tell you that the Hawks goalie must have been a frustrated acrobat in a past life.
It’s not uncommon for Stalock to lunge at the onslaught, slide with a swing to close a post, or collide with a defender while aggressively playing the puck. You could tell he was enjoying robbing Patric Hörnqvist in a sneaky backdoor tap-in attempt.
Does Stalock’s wild style go well with the more reserved Richardson?
“It’s not Alex. There were a couple of our forwards on the attacking blue line in the first period that I wasn’t too happy with,” said Richardson, who was a proponent of forwards covering their defensive duties. “I was like, ‘Oh, I think I’m being a little loud right now.’ ”
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Richardson said he was comfortable with Stalock’s style.
“I know he knows what he’s doing,” Richardson said. “He’s a veteran. He is also a character in the room after the game. Guys love him so they block shots for him, do anything for him.
“He’s very aggressive and very acrobatic, whether it’s stopping pucks or challenging to make big saves.”
Kurashev isn’t much of a talker and he’s certainly not outwardly flashy, so the eye-popping glare he gave his second-half goal on Tuesday was eyebrow-raising.
Weaving between Gustav Forsling and Radko Gudas, he lifted the puck over Sergei Bobrovsky for his second goal of the season.
“That goal was impressive – both his goals this year,” said Richardson. “He was very responsible. … We want guys like Kurashev to have the puck. He really understands what to do and he plays very well.
“There’s a bit of chemistry with that line (with Sam Lafferty and Jason Dickinson). …when the other team swallows the puck, flips the puck, or just does a great job on the ice. They could turn that into offense so they’re a good two-way line.