His epic point streak may have ended Tuesday night, but it seems like that’s just a blip on the radar of Patrick Kane’s Hart Trophy-level season.
The Chicago Blackhawks star and South Buffalo native is just a couple days away from his annual homecoming game against the Sabres, which takes place Saturday afternoon at 1 in First Niagara Center. He’ll hit town leading the NHL in scoring, although he’s no longer on the greatest run of consecutive games with a point by an American player in NHL history.
The streak ended at 26 games when Kane and his teammates were blanked in a 3-0 loss to Colorado in United Center.
“It was a good run,” Kane told reporters after the loss. “Didn’t have it tonight, so I can just focus on playing hockey, and it’ll be nice not to talk about it anymore. When you have to talk about it every day, it gets a little taxing, but I’m excited just to play hockey now.”
The streak started with an empty-net goal on Oct. 17 against Columbus and lasted nearly two months, with Kane collected 16 goals and 24 assists. Overall, Kane has a point in 29 of the Hawks’ 32 games this season. He leads the league in points (46) and assists (27), and his 19 goals are one behind the league lead of Dallas’ Jamie Benn.
All this, remember, comes amid the backdrop of Kane’s tumultuous summer. He was the subject of sexual assault allegations after an alleged incident in his Hamburg home in August, and the case loomed until mid-November when it was dropped by Erie County District Attorney Frank Sedita, who cited lack of cooperation by the accuser and the absence of credible evidence.
Kane pretty much stayed secluded until emerging for training camp at Notre Dame in mid-September. But he asserted that he was physically ready for camp when he reported for the first season of his eight-year, $84 million contract. His play has borne that out.
“I commend him on the consistency and the preparation,” Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said of the streak. “I’m sure it was challenging with the stress and trying to sustain it late in games … and all of the attention he’s been getting from opponents. The fact that he was able to sustain it for this length of time was amazing. It was pretty spectacular in today’s game to be on the board 26 games.”
The top two active streaks in the NHL were both ended Tuesday. One was Kane. No. 2 was Sabres center Ryan O’Reilly, who saw an eight-game run end in Buffalo’s 2-0 loss to New Jersey.
“What he’s doing is incredible,” O’Reilly said of Kane before the game. “You can see the way he plays, he’s a phenomenal player, but to do that is remarkable. For just myself alone to have this many has been tough. I’ve been scrambling to get on the board, and to do it that many times, it’s a credit to him. He’s a fantastic player.”
Another MVP run
Kane was on his way last year to his first career Hart, emblematic of the league’s most valuable player, until suffering a broken collarbone in a February game against Florida. He returned in time for the playoffs, leading the Hawks to their third Stanley Cup in six years and notching the insurance goal in the 2-0 Cup-clinching win over Tampa Bay.
NBC analyst Ed Olczyk, who works most of Kane’s games for CSN Chicago, said this week Kane is the league’s unquestioned MVP to this point.
Asked about Kane’s season by The Buffalo News on an NBC conference call, Olczyk marveled at how Kane was prepared from the opening faceoff even though he was unable to skate for roughly six weeks because of the allegations.
“To see what he has done here has really been an incredible run,” Olczyk said. “I mean, he has carried the Blackhawks for a long, long stretch of the season. The focus has been there, and I think the one thing that I’ve seen changing over the last couple years has been maybe three years ago, he was probably a 65/35 pass-first in the offensive zone. Now he’s become pretty close to a 50/50 guy.”
Like Olczyk said, teams can shade the way they need to if they know a player is going to pass most of the time. Or shoot. But with Kane dangling all over the ice, there’s pretty much no way to predict what he will do next. At age 27, Kane is on pace to shatter his previous career highs in goals (30) and points (88), both set during the Hawks’ first Cup season of 2009-10.
“And when you have the skill level that Patrick Kane has and you become unpredictable in the offensive zone, you’re going to go on runs,” Olczyk said. “And you’re going to be one of the top scorers in the National Hockey League. For me, it’s just been incredible to watch each and every night. He got a lot of help with his linemates, Artem Anisimov and Artemi Panarin, and they have been a really good line for the Blackhawks.
“But for anybody that can go on a long streak, let alone 26 games, it’s been an amazing run. So for me, he’s the most valuable player without question to this point.”
Record is 51 games
Kane’s streak broke Bobby Hull’s club record of 21 games set in the 1971-72 season, and was the longest in the NHL since Mats Sundin put together a 30-gamer for Quebec in 1992-93. Since that run, only Sidney Crosby (in 2010) had reached 25 games.
Remarkably, it was barely over halfway to the all-time record of 51 games, set in 1983-84 by Edmonton’s Wayne Gretzky.
“It’s impressive. Not just 26 games in itself, but also coming off winning a Stanley Cup and a new contract kicking in,” said Colorado forward Gabriel Landeskog. “It would be easy to be satisfied I guess, but he’s just showing what type of player he is. He wants to be the best and he’s shown that he’s definitely one of the best in the League, no doubt.”
Hull, now 76 years old, told Chicago reporters last week that he was thrilled to see Kane break his record.
“I’m only too proud to be able to watch a guy like that play,” Hull said. “It’s not only great for him, it’s great for the entire organization, the team and the people of Chicago to see someone the likes of Patrick play.
“I’ve never seen a kid handle the puck with such speed and make his feet go at the same speed.… No one handles the puck like Patrick Kane does and makes his feet go the same way. Once a hockey player’s feet stops, his brain stops. You can’t pass the puck or shoot. He’s always on the move and is a delight to watch, game in and game out.”
Before coming to Buffalo, the Hawks host Edmonton Thursday night. Kane has 603 career points in 608 games, far and away the top total from the 2007 draft class in which he was taken first overall. Dallas’ Benn, a fifth-round pick that year, is next at 400 points. Kane is certain to be anchor for the U.S. team at next year’s World Cup of Hockey in Toronto and likely to continue with the U.S. Olympic team if NHL players participate in the 2018 Games in South Korea.
“Just to watch what he’s done already is pretty amazing,” Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook told NHL.com. “He’s been fun to watch. It looks like he’s 6 years old out there, playing in a backyard rink, you know? He’s just playing hockey and having fun. He’s enjoying it and making plays.”
“It was a fun run. You never know what’s going to happen with a streak,” Kane said. “There’s a lot of games when it seemed like I was down and out and you end up getting something at the end. It was fun breaking the American record. I was happy with that. To break the franchise record too was pretty special as well.
“It was definitely fun while it lasted.”