By JAY COHEN- The Associated Press
CHICAGO – It started on opening night, when Patrick Kane and the Blackhawks ruined the Los Angeles Kings’ celebration of their first Stanley Cup title. Then Kane carved up the Phoenix Coyotes for two assists in the second game, and ripped through a six-game road trip for seven goals and three assists.
There have been loads of highlights during Kane’s strong start to the season, but Hawks coach Joel Quenneville likes what they mean altogether.
“We like the consistency in his game,” he said. “That line’s been effective, but Kane’s really got some nice jump to his game.”
The No. 1 overall pick in the 2007 draft has raised his play to a new level, adding improved defense and focus to his extensive offensive repertoire. He is tied for second in the NHL with 21 points, while the Hawks remain the league’s only team without a regulation loss heading into today’s nationally televised visit by the Kings.
Kane himself cautions it’s too early to draw any conclusions about his fast start, but he’s pleased with the first quarter of the lockout-abbreviated season – for himself, and his streaking team.
“Success comes, and you want to just keep improving and keep getting better,” he said. “Just trying to keep becoming the best player I can. Sometimes you get breaks where the pucks are finding you, the pucks are going in, and sometimes you don’t. You’ve got to take advantage when it is working.”
It’s definitely working right now.
Kane has recorded at least one point in 13 of the Hawks’ 14 games, including a season-high three in the opening period of a dominant 6-2 victory Feb. 7 at Phoenix. The line of Kane, left wing Patrick Sharp and center Dave Bolland has 16 of the Hawks’ 47 goals, which put them in a tie for second in the league in scoring heading into Saturday’s games.
He still has that flashy ability that can draw stunned gasps from a crowd, like when he turned San Jose defenseman Brent Burns in a circle before shooting wide left on one rush during Friday night’s 4-1 victory. But the 24-year-old Kane also drove hard to the goalmouth to help set up Bolland for the first goal of the game, and sped back to help stymie one rush by the Sharks.
“He’s playing well. He’s effective,” captain Jonathan Toews said. “Him and Sharpie and Bolly are going out there. They’re doing well. They’re working hard on the power play, and as long as they work for their chances they’re going to get their chances and a lot of them are going to go in with the skill they have on that line.”
It’s quite a change from the end of last season, when Internet photos of Kane partying in Madison, Wis., led to renewed questions about his maturity. He also was arrested in his hometown of Buffalo, N.Y., in 2009 after an altercation with a cab driver.
General manager Stan Bowman said in May the team had talked to Kane about the pictures, and they handled the situation internally. And everyone certainly seems to be getting along just fine right now.
“He’s had a good approach to this season,” Quenneville said. “I commend him on how he’s handled it. Playing in Europe might have helped as well. But his peak conditioning, his frame of mind, his quickness on the ice, his strength, preparation, focus, you can’t say exactly one thing but he’s got it all going.”
Kane, a three-time All-Star, played for Biel in Switzerland’s top division during the lockout, so he had a head start on much of the league when the players and owners reached a new labor deal in January. He also had a healthy offseason after undergoing surgery to repair a broken left wrist in July 2011.
“I guess one of the big things is I wasn’t coming off another wrist surgery from last season,” he said, “which I felt like I was working out real hard during the summer and that kind of slowed me down for the rest of the summer. This year I had a full summer to work out and was healthy and sometimes health is the biggest thing.”
Kane, who is playing without his trademark mouth guard after going without one in Switzerland, has long been one of the most popular Hawks, both for his fun-loving image and his considerable ability on the ice. He had the winning goal in Game 6 of the 2010 Stanley Cup against Philadelphia, lifting the franchise to its first championship since 1961.
The video that plays on the overhead scoreboard before the Hawks’ home games includes Kane looking directly into the camera while declaring “I stand for the roar at the United Center.”
He’s heard a bunch of those loud cheers already this year.