David Haugh's In the Wake of the News
11:38 PM CDT, April 11, 2012
Beyond the playoff beard stubble, something seems different lately about Patrick Kane.
"Ha, I don't think so,'' teammate Jonathan Toews said, chuckling.
More visible? Surprisingly to some, Kane took his unofficial role of team spokesman so seriously during Toews' layoff that he offered the media access every day through good or bad.
"It's very natural for him,'' Toews kidded. "He likes to be in front of the camera.''
Whether because of the lack of a solid second-line center early this season or Toews' concussion late, the natural right winger played center during long stretches that produced Kane's best hockey. With Toews expected back Thursday night for Game 1 of the Coyotes series, Kane unselfishly will move again to left wing on the top line opposite Marian Hossa on the right side, where Hossa feels most comfortable.
Rare is the sports superstar whose small ego allows such mobility.
"I take pride in playing all three positions or wherever they want because it's good for the team,'' Kane said. "The position you line up in doesn't have a lot to do with where you are in the offensive zone or when you get the puck in the middle of the ice. I play my own game no matter where I'm at.''
The numbers say Kane's game dipped considerably in his fifth NHL season. The eyes make a valid counter argument, especially the past month.
"He's always going to be an offensive player but more and more, the responsibility put on him from the coaching staff and what's expected of him by teammates, he keeps improving his all-around game,'' Toews said.
Kane started the year a dynamic, point-a-game playmaker capable of taking over games offensively and ended it a more complete player than at any point in his career despite disappointing statistics. He got peskier in faceoffs and more physical on the boards — by Kane standards. He became serviceable defensively, improvement hastened by the influence of Hossa on the same line.
"Kaner had a good start, ordinary middle and better at the end,'' coach Joel Quenneville said.
Through it all, nothing made Kane prouder than not missing a start after undergoing offseason surgery to repair a wrist fracture. In a Chicago winter sports year defined by medical updates about stars, Kane played all 82 games for the third time in five seasons. He smiled recalling predictions that his 5-foot-11, 181-pound body lacked the durability to last in the NHL.
"A lot of people said when I got drafted, 'He might be too small or get hurt a lot,'" Kane said. "So it was kind of nice to do that again.''
Bouncing around positions as the Hawks needed contributed to Kane scoring a career-low 66 points and only 23 goals. But the Hawks don't consider it coincidental that their season turned around after a nine-game losing streak about when Kane recommitted himself to playing both ends of the ice in Toews' absence.
"I feel my game is as good as it ever has been, to be honest,'' Kane said. "I'm better at different things, defensively and takeaways and faceoffs. I'll even try to throw the odd hit in here or there.''
Kane laughed at the notion of No. 88 mixing it up. He enjoys using self-deprecating humor as much as his spin-o-rama move.
"I know sometimes the production isn't there offensively, and hopefully that will come in due time, but you always can redeem yourself in the playoffs so that's what I can do here,'' he said.
The Coyotes fear Kane can do in the clutch what only a handful of skilled NHL players are able: Get hotter than the sun on Camelback Mountain and solve goaltender Mike Smith in a tight game. Or score on a game-winning breakaway with one of those NHL-tested, legend-approved, ready-for-YouTube trick shots Kane has been known to use. Or finally be the source of energy the Hawks need Kane to be on a power play that remains unplugged.
"He's one of those guys who can change a game on his own, not just by goal-scoring but playmaking,'' said Coyotes assistant John Anderson, the former Wolves coach. "He's unselfish and a really good puck-mover. He'll look like he's going in on his own and then pass for a tap-in. We would be fools not to pay extra attention to Kane.''
This time of year, everybody does. How else to explain why Kane was asked to explain opting for facial hair instead of a mullet (good choice) for these playoffs.
"I'll grow the beard as best I can because I am a little older now,'' Kane said.
The maturity shows.
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