Of course, Joel Quenneville is biased. But when the Chicago Blackhawks coach says Patrick Kane has been the best player in the NHL thus far, there's just about zero chance he'll get an argument.
"I would say I don't know that anybody's been better for sure," Quenneville said this morning in First Niagara Center in advance of today's 1 p.m. matchup between the Hawks and Buffalo Sabres. "He's been that good. He's been dangerous, he's been consistent, a threat every single time he hits the ice. And when he touches the puck, it elevates."
And all this, of course, with the backdrop of the sexual assault allegations from August that dogged Kane, the South Buffalo native, through training camp and loomed until they were finally dropped in November for lack of evidence.
"I commend him on how he's handled the whole situation," Quenneville said. "His mind was in the right place, focused game in and game out. The consistency is what we measure performances and it's been outstanding. I find he's gotten better every single year and this year there's some progression to his game as well.
"Superstars are top players in the game. They relish being the best they can be at any given moment. They want to be the best they can every time they hit the field or hit the ice. That's what drives them. Everybody's motivated to be successful and top players are able to get it done. The measuring stick is to keep doing it. That's the challenge for those guys. They seem to get it done."
Kane's scoring streak, which I wrote about in Thursday's paper, ended Tuesday night against Colorado at 26 games, the longest in the league since 1993 and the longest ever by a Hawk and an American player. He started a new one with an assist on the final goal in Thursday's 4-0 win over Edmonton. He has 19 goals, 28 assists and a league-leading 47 points in 33 games
"It's tough to manufacture offense knowing that you're being a little bit isolated," Quenneville said. "He was getting added attention as he was going through that streak. He's got quickness to his game. He's got great recognition, tremendous amount of patience, ability to beat players 1-on-1, got a sneaky shot and isn't afraid to use it. His linemates have helped him to this process. He's got his whole game in order and I think him with the puck is about as good as anybody in the game."
Some other notes from the Hawks' bench boss:
---Red-hot Corey Crawford will start in goal. There was some thought backup Scott Darling might go today with the Hawks hosting San Jose tomorrow in United Center. Crawford has three shutouts in the last four games -- a first for a Chicago goalie since Tony Esposito in 1974 -- and leads the NHL with five.
---Fourth-line center and ace penalty killer Marcus Kruger had surgery on a dislocated wrist Friday and Quenneville said today he's probably not going to be able to play again until the playoffs.
---The Hawks have played Edmonton three times already and Connor McDavid has missed all of the matchups due to his broken clavicle. Quenneville said his curiosity is up to see Jack Eichel for the first time.
"Special player," Quenneville said. "He's got some quickness, he's upright, he's got the puck a lot and wants the puck. At 1-on-1 he has that ability but the speed is the one thing you really notice. A lot of young players in our league, the one trait they do have is the quickness."
---The Hawks have won seven straight over the Sabres dating to a 2-1 loss here on Dec. 11, 2009.
One quick note: The Blackhawks did not make Kane available to the media pregame. According to NHL rules, players are supposed to be available when a team does not have a morning skate but it's hardly a surprise the team would want to limit Kane's interaction during the brief trip here. He will certainly speak to the media post game.