Evander Kane has simply stopped scoring. So the Buffalo Sabres made the most sensible switch in their lines at practice Wednesday: Put him back on Jack Eichel's wing.
Kane will get a chance to resurrect his season – and perhaps bolster his standing among suitors eyeing the trade deadline – while playing with Eichel and Kyle Okposo on a strong top line as the Sabres host the Florida Panthers Thursday in KeyBank Center.
Kane remains second on the Sabres to Eichel in goals (16) and points (36) but much of that damage was done in October and November when he was playing with Eichel. When the calendar hit Dec. 1, Kane had 12 goals and 11 assists. Since then, he has just four goals and nine assists in the last 25 games.
"Hopefully we'll generate some more offense," Kane said. "I haven't created much offensively the last little bit and when I have, they haven't gone in. I've hit some bars. Obviously it's not fun when you're not producing but it's part of a long year."
Kane, who has been playing for several games with Johan Larsson and Jason Pominville, had no shots on goal in Tuesday's 3-1 loss to New Jersey here – the first time that's happened to him at home since he joined the Sabres in 2015.
Kane had one goal and one assist in 12 January games, with the goal a meaningless last-minute tally in a loss to Minnesota when the score was 6-1. He has no goals in his last 10 games, one goal in his last 15 games and four goals in his last 29.
"They had good chemistry early," coach Phil Housley said of Kane and Eichel. "It was just a change to spark Evander a little bit, reunite those guys. We're going to need 5-on-5 scoring moving ahead here. ... It was just a move to try to mix it up a little bit."
"Confidence obviously helps," Kane said. "When things are going in, you're feeling good. When it's not, you've got to keep your confidence. If that goes, it can really prolong it and other parts of your game can really start to slip. For me, I'm staying confident with what I can do and eventually it will turn."
There is clearly some mental gymnastics going on, with Kane having to strike a balance about his current affairs with the Sabres while simultaneously wondering about his future with the Feb. 26 trade deadline approaching.
"It's two totally different things," he said. "All I can really focus on is each day, each and every game and try to be the best player I can be. It's not something I try to block out. I try to embrace it and realize it's part of my every day right now."
"Anybody in his situation, sometimes it can be difficult," Housley said. "Especially when you're going through a stretch when a lot of things aren't going your way. He's just got to find a way to work through it. He hit a crossbar on the road. Maybe that would have sparked him in Vancouver. He's getting some opportunities. It just hasn't been going in for him."
Housley said he'd like to see Kane start to attack the net more like he did earlier in the season, either by swooping in for rebounds on the power play or using his speed to go wide on defensemen. Certainly, the attention going to the red-hot Eichel could open up more ice for Kane.
"When 'Kaner' is on and playing his game, he can be really dangerous," Eichel said. "He's a pretty unique combination of size, skill, speed. He shoots hard, goes to the net hard. When he's physical and disrupting things, he's a lot to handle and a good guy to play with. When you're going through a tough stretch and not scoring, even the best players in our league go through it. You just try to simplify things and go to the net."
Eichel had a stretch earlier this year of three goals in 18 games and has often said he felt he was playing better than those numbers would indicate.
"Sometimes it feels like everything you touch is going in and you find a way and there's other times where it feels like you can't buy one," Eichel said. "It's a weird game like that. I like to pass the puck so hey, go try to get yourself open and I'll find you. I know how well he shoots it."