CHICAGO -- Patrick Kane
has looked like a different player during the Chicago Blackhawks
' run to the Stanley Cup Final, and it's not just his haircut.
Nothing epitomized the type of player Kane was during last season than his numbers during the playoffs; 16 games, 9 goals, 5 assists, minus-9. Sure, he was scoring, but he was about as defensively responsible as a lamp post. The image of Detroit's Mikael Samuelsson skating away from Kane in the neutral zone before scoring in overtime of Game 2 of the West Finals spoke volumes.
And Kane knows it.
"In the playoffs last year, I think I had 9 goals," said Kane, who was minus-6 in the Blackhawks' five-game loss to the Wings. "I was scoring a lot, but my plus/minus, I don't know what it was, but it wasn't very good.
"One of the biggest things (this season) was to be a better two-way player. My first two years in the League, I was a minus player. This year I was right up there. I think my two-way game has gotten a lot of better."
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Kane was plus-16 during the regular season and is plus-2 in 16 playoff games. He hasn't sacrificed any scoring during the postseason with his 7 goals and 13 assists, and he credits his new-found appreciation for the defensive side of the game to Marian Hossa, an elite scorer who is well-known for not slacking on his responsibilities in his own zone.
"That comes with watching guys like Hossa, who is really unbelievable at it," Kane said. "I think that's probably the biggest thing, is watching him to see how good he is defensively and how he works so hard to get back and how that translates offensively."
It's not as if Kane has become a serious candidate for the Selke Trophy or anything close to that, but he has made some great strides -- many of them toward his defensive zone -- in improving his once-lax defensive game. After blocking just 9 shots in 2008-09, Kane got in front of 17 this season. He also went from 23 to 51 in the takeaway category, a sign that he's at least making an effort to get the puck back and not hanging at center ice and waiting for a breakaway.
After just 5 takeaways in last year's playoffs, he has 14 in the same amount of games in this year's playoffs. It's not much, but it shows a willingness that wasn't there in the past has surfaced under the defensive-minded Joel Quenneville.
"He's teaching a lot of things," Kane said. "I know myself personally I've been night and day with my game defensively since he's come in. He's taught me a lot about that."
It may seem odd to hear players praise the growth of someone who proudly walks around with a mullet that looks like it was put through a rusty blender. But Kane's teammates have seen the small changes in his game.
"He's become more accountable," said Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp. "A lot of that comes from Joel preaching a check-first mentality. He's certainly a guy who's bought into it. When you see some of our top offensive guys playing that way, it filters through the lineup.
"He loves to score goals and make plays and he wants that puck every time he's on the ice. But he realizes you got to work to get it and he's been doing a great job of that this year. It's fun to have Patty as a teammate because he'll always come up with funny celebrations or goofy haircuts, but he cares just as much as everyone else does in here."
Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DLozoNHL