TORONTO – Evander Kane is one of the hottest scorers in the NHL, as folks in Buffalo know. What’s the best way to make it known throughout the hockey world?
Score twice in Toronto. On a Saturday night. On “Hockey Night in Canada.”
And what the heck, why not do it two years to the day of the big trade to the Sabres?
“Happy anniversary,” said “Hockey Night” reporter Christine Simpson during her nationally televised one-on-one with Kane.
As Kane looked back on the 3-1 victory over the Maple Leafs, he also looked back on a torrid 10-week stretch that has put him atop the Sabres’ scoring list. The two goals in Air Canada Centre gave him 18 for the season.
He’s tied for 36th overall in the NHL, especially impressive considering his first goal didn’t come until Dec. 3.
“Health-wise this is probably the best I’ve felt in the last number of years in terms of staying healthy, having some games and getting in a groove,” Kane said.
The broken ribs he suffered in the season opener are a distant memory. So is the 12-game slump to start the year.
“Health has a lot to do with it,” Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said. “Once he got back to skating the way he can skate and bringing the speed and physicality, we’ve seen his game from Dec. 1 on really elevate.”
Since Dec. 1, Kane is fourth in the league in goals, including an NHL-best 17 at even strength. He has five two-goal games this season, bringing his career total to 24.
The 25-year-old is still waiting for a hat trick.
“I think I’m leading the league in two-goal games by a player with no hat trick,” Kane said with a laugh.
He really is. Since 1987-88, only the retired duo of Pavel Datsyuk (39) and Brian Leetch (25) have had more two-goal games during the regular season without a getting a hat trick, according to Ian Ott, the Sabres’ manager of media relations.
Kane had a couple of long-range chances during the closing minutes that went wide and resulted in icing calls.
“I definitely appreciate the boys trying to get it for me, and that ice probably wasn’t the best opportunity to get it,” Kane said. “Hopefully it will happen, maybe tomorrow night.”
The Sabres host the Vancouver Canucks at 7:30 p.m. Sunday.
Kane is performing like General Manager Tim Murray envisioned when he swung the deal with Winnipeg on Feb. 11, 2015. In addition to the two goals, Kane attempted four shots, had three hits and two takeaways.
Both goals came during the first period as Buffalo blew past the Leafs for a 3-0 lead. Kane opened the scoring from the top of the right circle when Jack Eichel won the draw to Sam Reinhart, who quickly fed Kane.
After Reinhart scored, Kane took a pass from Eichel and fired from inside the left faceoff dot.
“The third one was one I really liked,” Bylsma said. “It’s not an area he gets in and sits in and is a recipient of a pass too often. That’s a sign of him adding another level to his game there, not just the speed and shooting the puck down the wing, but finding that soft area there. Jack makes a great play, and he makes no mistake with it.”
The early goals and a bushel of saves by Robin Lehner allowed Buffalo to hold off the Leafs. Toronto took 44 shots in the final 51 minutes.
“We jumped on them early, and we were rewarded for it,” Eichel said. “The next 40 we did enough to win the game, and that’s what’s important. With that being said, we still need to be a little bit better in pushing for that next goal. The fourth one would have been nice.”