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Mike Harrington: As countdown hits final week, Evander Kane forges on

We're down to the final week in Blue and Gold for Evander Kane.

He knows it. His teammates know it. You and I know it. The entire hockey world does, too.

What no one knows is where Kane's next stop is, be it Pittsburgh or Nashville or San Jose or Philadelphia or any number of other teams that might get involved with the Sabres to swing a deal for one of the top rental players on the market before next Monday's 3 p.m. trade deadline.

Kane, like his current team, has gone pretty much invisible since the Winter Classic save for a handful of games here and there. Monday's 3-2 loss to Washington in KeyBank Center was one of his better performances in a while as Kane collected nine shots on goal – his most since opening night – had four hits and blocked two shots.

"I'm just playing a little ticked off I guess," said Kane (who didn't actually say "ticked"). "I think it was just that I woke up a little grumpy on a Monday morning. A little ticked."

Teams who are interested want this version of Kane, much like the one we saw in the first 2 1/2 months of this season and the one that had 28 goals last year despite not scoring until December after suffering broken ribs on opening night.

"The deadline is a week away. I'm aware of it obviously like everybody else is," Kane said. "I'm just getting ready for the next game. That's my mindset."

Kane got his 19th goal of the season, albeit it was a garbage-time tally with 3.3 seconds left in a 3-1 game. Refuse or not, that's just his fourth goal since Christmas. Most of the time of late, Kane simply isn't very noticeable. There hasn't been much of a forecheck from him, little aggression, no push to the areas down low or along the boards.

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In the first period Monday, he skated eight shifts for 6 1/2 minutes and had two shots on goal. If you didn't look at the stat sheet, you would have never known he was out there.

Now, that changed quite a bit in the final 40 minutes. Kane started to battle, increasing his drive to the net and not simply circling on the periphery of the offensive zone. He started chirping with Caps gnat Tom Wilson in the third period and ended up in the Caps' bench courtesy of defenseman Matt Niskanen in the final minute as Evgeny Kuznetsov scored an empty-net goal.

Driving opponents and, truth be told, his own teammates crazy at times is what you get with Kane. But the scuttlebutt around the league continues to be there's lots of interest in him on the theory he's never played a playoff game and is desperate for the chance.

"I thought he worked much harder today," said coach Phil Housley. "I thought he was more physical, played with a little attitude today. He had some good looks. ... I liked the way he played."

Kane's case is a fascinating one to ponder. Unless he goes crazy in his new address, that team is likely just going to rent him through the playoffs. And then what?

Who is giving Kane a long-term deal come summer? He got six years and $31.5 million from the Winnipeg Jets on his deal that expires after this season and has yet to crack 30 goals in any season.

The way this season started, Kane was going to blow past that pace and be on the road to 40. In early December, he had 13 goals and was battling Toronto phenom Auston Matthews for the most even-strength tallies in the NHL over the previous 12 months.

Sabres' late push is teaching moment for opponents

Kane hit Thanksgiving with his stat sheet stuffed aplenty but then he started slowing down. At first there was a run of bad puck luck, as he was regularly still getting all kinds of scoring chances.

In one 13-game stretch from Nov. 22-Dec. 19, Kane had just two goals but had 46 shots on goal. Those figures dwindled. In the middle of a stretch of 14 straight games with no goals, Kane had a run of six games where he totaled just eight shots.

"I think I've proven I can put the puck in the net throughout the course of my career," Kane said. "It hasn't gone offensively the way I wanted it to the last six weeks but it's something I've had to push through and find different ways to contribute. Maybe shoot your way out of it."

Kane has done that the last three games, with 18 shots on goal.  Look for him to keep shooting as the scouts cast a keen eye over the final three Sabres games before next Monday. Kane has enjoyed his time in the 716 and says will play it out as long as it goes.

"It's what you have to do as a professional. For me, that's my job and what I'm here for," he said. "I'm going to play as hard as I can until I'm moved. When it happens, we'll worry about that."

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