Looking at the Buffalo Sabres line chart over the last four games has prompted a version of the game "Where's Waldo?"In this version it's "Where's Evander?"
Evander Kane has played everywhere from a scoring line to a checking line. He's started a game on the first line with Jack Eichel and Kyle Okposo and finished a game on the fourth line with Zemgus Girgensons and Nic Deslauriers.
Who knows where he will show up Thursday when the Sabres host the Carolina Hurricanes in KeyBank Center. But regardless of who he's teamed up with, Kane will be looking to keep his point streak alive.
While his spot in the lineup has been in a state of flux, his play has been consistent. Kane is on a four-game point streak, including scoring dramatic game-tying goals in Carolina and Florida.
"I thought his last two games, the Carolina game and the Florida game, were very good," Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said about Kane on Wednesday afternoon as the Sabres had team meetings in KeyBank Center. "Skating. Physical. Really had a lot of jump, leading the way with our speed game. He came up with big goals in both those games."
The lineup shakeup started Dec. 13 against the L.A. Kings. Kane started the game with Eichel and Okposo, scoring a goal with assists from them, but later found himself on the fourth line with Girgensons and Deslauriers.
He played on the fourth line for much of the next game against the New York Islanders, setting up a power play goal for Matt Moulson. Kane started the game in Carolina with Girgensons and Deslauriers before finishing it with Johann Larsson and Brian Gionta. That trio stayed together for Tuesday's game against the Florida Panthers.
"Evander’s never really cared who he played with," Bylsma said. "He just wants to play and I think really moving him next to Larsson in the Carolina game with Gionta, he added a lot to that line. Besides being an effective line I think Evander’s done a great job of checking on that line as well. He’s played against good players, he was last night again and doing an excellent job with that line and his speed but checking as well."
There is something about consistency of linemates that creates chemistry and a comfort zone. But that's beyond a player's control and while the shifting line combinations can be challenging, for Kane it's all about the mindset.
"I've played with, well now pretty much everybody on the team," Kane said. "Obviously it's nice when you can play with a couple of guys consistently. It helps. It's not as challenging. But I'm just going to come with the mindset that it doesn't really matter who I'm playing with or where I'm playing. I've just got to go out and try to bring as much as I can on the ice. At the end of the days it's the coach's decision."
Perhaps the coach's decision has lit a bit of fire for Kane, who now has five goals in his last six games including scoring in the last two. Against Carolina, Kane scored the game-tying goal with 2:37 left in the third period as the Sabres lost in a shootout. On Tuesday against Florida, Kane again scored the game-tying goal as the Sabres erased a 2-0 deficit in the second period only to lose in a shootout.
His start to the season was slowed by an injury during the season opener, when he suffered cracked ribs after sliding hard into the end boards. He returned on Nov. 9 but it it took him 11 games to get his first goal of the season.
Now, he feels as if he's warmed up.
"I mean I've played 20 games now. Probably the first eight of them, it takes a while to get back in the rhythm," Kane said. "I was coming off a pretty serious injury and I've just started to find my rhythm and feel better about my game. For me I think it's just about being consistent. I'm a guy that wants to make a difference and wants the puck on his stick and wants to be the guy. We have a few guys like that on the team. That's part of my job and for me, I just hope to be put in a position where I can have the opportunity to do that."