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Blackhawks shift Kane back to right wing

by Brian Hedger
It wasn’t too long ago that Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville told reporters the experiment of moving Patrick Kane to center was “no longer an experiment.”

Things were going well then, with Kane flanked by the gritty Daniel Carcillo on the left and two-way star forward Marian Hossa on the right. It seemed like the playmaking Kane had found a new home on the ice for the long haul and it was right down the middle of it.

The Chicago Blackhawks experiment of trying Patrick Kane at center appears to be over for now as Kane will shift back to his old spot at right wing. (Photo: Jonathan Daniel/NHLI)
Well, the long haul lasted about a month. At Thursday’s practice in Chicago, Kane was moved back to his old spot of right wing on the top line -- which is centered by Hawks captain Jonathan Toews and includes speedster Viktor Stalberg on the left side. The “experiment” at second-line center now focuses on rookie Marcus Kruger, who’s worked his way up from being cut on the last day of training camp.

"Kane at center has been a good option for us," Quenneville told reporters after Thursday’s practice. "Kruger is playing well. It gives us a different look. We just wanted to try something else."

Kane, who’s played most of his NHL career on Toews’ right side, has compiled 7 goals and 17 assists in Chicago’s first 25 games while playing center. However, he hasn’t produced as much statistically since a strong showing in a 5-4 overtime loss on Nov. 4 in Tampa Bay -- in which Kane dished out 3 assists and Hossa added a goal and an assist.

Since that game, Kane has scored just 3 goals and added 5 assists while Hossa has scored 2 goals along with 8 assists. Narrow the focus to the past five games and the production for both takes an even more noticeable dip.

Neither has scored a goal and Kane has just 3 assists to go with a pair for Hossa. They’ve also got mirroring minus-3 ratings in those games. An even more telling split for Kane’s stat production might be the difference between home and road games -- when opposing coaches get the last shift change and can better match up big centers against the 5-foot-11, 181-pound Kane.

In just 11 home games – when Quenneville could get a better physical match up for Kane – he’s flourished with 5 goals and 9 assists. In 14 road games, Kane has scored just 2 goals to go with 8 assists.

“I felt I got pretty comfortable at the position,” Kane told reporters. “I'll still try to do some things I did at center, where you're trying to get the puck a lot down low and moving up the ice and different things like that. It was definitely a bit of a challenge.”

Quenneville said the move will hold for the foreseeable future, but Kane isn’t ready to rule out a switch back to the middle at some point -- including on the fly during games, or even certain shifts.

"That was probably what we were looking for all along,” Kane said. “Maybe not something that would be permanent, but something that's an option down the road if need be. I'm not expecting to be done at that position. I'm sure there will be some changes throughout the year, just like I didn't expect to be at center the whole season. I knew there (would) be changes back and forth, and I'd be on the right side sometimes. Hopefully, in a perfect world, it all works out. But if not, I can play both now."

Kruger, meanwhile, will get a new challenge of playing a key role among the Hawks’ top-six forwards. On Thursday, he was paired with Patrick Sharp on his left and Hossa on the right. Kruger’s play has picked up as the season has progressed, and he has assists in two of the past three games.

Quenneville told reporters that he’d like to see what the young Swedish center can do with the team’s top forwards flanking him.

"Marcus gives us an option based on his performance,” Quenneville told reporters on Thursday. “We'll see how he handles it with the top guys. It's more of an experiment that way, as well. Knowing you always have Kane in the middle in your back pocket is a nice option to have."
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