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Split from Toews has seen Kane produce at new level

by Brian Hedger / Chicago Blackhawks
Bill Smith / Chicago Blackhawks

CHICAGO -- They still haven't found a prototypical center for their second line, but the Chicago Blackhawks have a great way to compensate.

The answer is simple.

Rather than keeping right wing Patrick Kane with captain Jonathan Toews on the top line, Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville prefers to split them up. Kane goes to right wing on the second line, Marian Hossa plays right wing on the top unit and usually it works to great success.

Since splitting from Toews about 10 games into the season, Kane's production got even better. He enters the Blackhawks' game Friday against the Vancouver Canucks (8 p.m. ET, NHLN-US, TSN) second in the NHL in scoring with 46 points, five behind the Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby.

"When those two guys got separated there I think we got a little bit more balance in our lineup, whether it's coverage problems for the opponent or it frees [Kane] up or it frees up [Toews]," Quenneville said after a morning skate Friday at United Center. "I think it gives the opposition a little bit more to be concerned with and I think that opens things up a little bit. These guys open things up no matter who they're playing with, and that line whoever [Kane's] been with has been very dangerous."

At points this season Brandon Saad manned the left wing on Kane's line. More recently it's been Kris Versteeg, who rejoined the Blackhawks in a November trade with the Florida Panthers.

Centering the unit is veteran Michal Handzus after experiments with Saad, Marcus Kruger, Andrew Shaw, Versteeg and Brandon Pirri in the middle didn't pan out to Quenneville's liking.

Still, Kane has produced.

He has a 10-game point streak with the Blackhawks heading into the game Friday and is just two shy of tying his season-high 12-game point streak.

Kane has recorded at least one point in 22 of his past 23 games, scoring 13 goals and picking up 22 assists in that span.

"Every time he gets out there he's dangerous no matter who he's with," Versteeg said. "He's a player that is so highly talented he doesn't need much to work with. But the last little while I've been able to play with him and I thought we've had some pretty good chemistry right off the bat. I'm just trying to basically get him the puck, you know?"

How could you blame him?

Kane has evolved into more than just a dangerous playmaker with a penchant for scoring clutch goals. He's become more of a goal-scorer now. Kane has 121 shots on goal this season, second-highest on the team behind Patrick Sharp's 140, and he's converted 16.5 percent of them into goals.

"I've always felt like I've been a goal-scorer my whole hockey career," Kane said. "For whatever reason when I came into the League as a rookie and maybe a few years after that, I was more of a playmaker because of the way I play the game and the way things opened up for some of my teammates. As time goes on you learn to find new ways to score goals."

Like scrapping for loose pucks around the net.

Kane is more willing to mix it up in heavy traffic to get a stick on pucks in the crease, but he's also taking the puck to the net more to create prime scoring chances.

"I think the biggest thing at this level is you try to get to the net and either poke in loose [pucks] or be patient around the net and make some plays there," he said. "You're not going to score on a goalie from 40 feet away. It's just not going to happen at this level, so try to get inside and make some plays and score closer to the net."

Also, target a little lower when shooting.

Kane worked on putting some more zip on his shot during the summer and it shows. He also worked on targeting, looking for additional ways to create scoring chances for himself and his teammates based primarily off his own shot.

"I think when I was coming [into the NHL], I always had a tendency to shoot high maybe," Kane said. "Now I try to shoot low. Maybe the main reason is it seems to be a better shot on net and you can get rebounds. You can also, for some reason, score more shooting low."

Timing plays a big role as well.

"You try to read and react to what the situation is," Kane said. "If you have time and you see a corner maybe you shoot high, but it seems like the play these days is to get it on net and crash the net. Get to the net and try to find those loose rebounds."

It seems to be working for him. Kane leads the NHL's highest-scoring team in goals (20), assists (26) and points (46). He's also taken a plus/minus rating that at one point was a minus-9 to now a plus-6.

"Every night there's two or three chances where he gets A-plus quality [scoring chances] and a lot of times he manufactures on his own," Quenneville said. "He's been real good."

Good and more confident than ever. There's been a lot of talk about Kane maturing the past few seasons, mostly in reference to his life away from the rink. Where he's probably matured most, though, is on the ice.

He's 25 years old, has won the Stanley Cup twice, was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as MVP of the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs and still feels like there's room to grow.

"You try to round out your complete game and try to get better at certain things," Kane said. "And the things you're good at you're always trying to continue improving [those] too. I've learned from some great players here with the Hawks. I've been fortunate to play with some great players here that you learn a lot from."

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