The relationship between Evander Kane and Winnipeg is proof that bridges burn in subzero temperatures. The inferno will still be blazing this weekend when Kane heads back there for the first time.
The Sabres granted Kane’s wish last February when they got him out of Winnipeg. He knew he’d eventually have to return. The Buffalo winger will be there Saturday and Sunday, and the reception will be frostier than the forecast temperature of minus-22 Fahrenheit.
“Obviously, a lot of people I’m sure are looking forward to that game,” Kane said Wednesday. “It’ll be fun.”
It depends on the definition of fun. If anger equals fun, it’ll be one heck of a hootenanny.
Winnipeggers will be out to show their disdain for a former player who repeatedly made it clear that Manitoba, its residents and the Jets were not for him. Kane will be determined to show the fans what they had and failed to appreciate.
“I’m sure it’ll be entertaining,” Kane said in First Niagara Center. “I don’t really know what to expect. I expect to win a hockey game. That’s first and foremost for me. I guess everybody will see what happens when it happens.”
The game against the Jets will be the midway point of a three-game road trip for the Sabres. They play in Chicago on Friday and will fly to Winnipeg after the game. They’re scheduled to practice in the city Saturday before visiting the Jets at 3 p.m. Sunday in MTS Centre. Buffalo will head to Minnesota after the game.
“It can be hostile,” Kane said of the arena atmosphere. “They’ve got some passionate fans there. I guess that’s the way to put it, passionate.”
Kane was a marquee member of the Jets’ organization when it was in Atlanta. The Thrashers selected him fourth overall in 2009, and he played two seasons in the South before the franchise relocated to Winnipeg for the 2011-12 season. He went along unwillingly, asking for a trade during each of his four seasons.
Buffalo acquired him after one final blowout that featured insults and injury.
“It’s been a nice change, and it’s something I enjoy,” Kane said.
The Sabres’ top left winger has publicly embraced living in Buffalo, but he’s been quiet since Buffalo police began a sexual-assault investigation Dec. 27. It is ongoing and will likely be a talking point in Winnipeg.
All Kane can talk about at the moment is his game. It mirrors the Sabres’ game: lots of shots and no goals. Kane has no points in the last five games, remaining stuck on eight goals and five assists in 30 outings.
“I’m getting chances to score each and every game,” said Kane, who is averaging 4.6 shots per game during the skid. “They just haven’t gone in now. I’m going to work hard to continue to try to get better at my game and continue to try to produce those offensive opportunities.
“Hopefully, I can start putting some more pucks in the back of the net. That’s my job, and that’s what I enjoy doing. That’s my role in terms of helping this team win, so I’ve got to be better and I’ve got to start producing at a much higher level like I know I can.”
While his numbers are lacking, his offensive zone time is not. Kane is eighth in the NHL at 3.7 shots per game. He’s put 112 on net and missed an additional 43. His Corsi of 51.63 percent ranks fourth on the Sabres behind Mark Pysyk (54.37), Mike Weber (53.83) and Sam Reinhart (52.0), according to War-On-Ice.com.
Coach Dan Bylsma has used Kane an average of 20:55 per night, the fourth-highest total among NHL forwards.
“In talking to Evander about his game right now, he’s had good looks and good shots and shots he’d like to continue to take,” Bylsma said. “He’s had the opportunities, and they haven’t cashed in for him. In some aspects I see the goal production he’s had and believe there’s another 10 goals there that aren’t on the stat sheet.”
Another 10 goals would have helped the Sabres, who’ve lost five straight to sink to 29th in the NHL.
“You can’t lose five in a row,” Kane said. “You never really want to lose more than two in a row because it puts you in a hole and puts you back in the standings.
“At the same time if you look at it from the other side, we’ve got 42 games left to correct where we are right now. That’s a lot of hockey. That’s some hockey hopefully where we can make up some ground and start to be the team that we all believe we can.
“Losing, it’s no fun. Everybody’s won something before, and you want to get to that point at this level. You want to be a winner. You want to be successful. Success usually results in a lot of things that you wouldn’t expect individually and as a team. We’ve got to be hungrier. We’ve got to be hungry to win.”