Kane’s hot start puts 50-goal mark in reach

Post Tribune (Sunday) - - Sports - By Jimmy Green­field Chicago Tri­bune

Let’s have some quick fun with num­bers.

If the Black­hawks’ Patrick Kane con­tin­ues at his cur­rent pace, he will fin­ish the sea­son with a team-record 69 goals. It would be a glorious achieve­ment, the Hawks prob­a­bly would make the play­offs, and Kane likely would win his sec­ond Hart Tro­phy as league MVP.

Now let’s de­tour back to re­al­ity: Kane will not fin­ish the sea­son with 69 goals.

But with Kane tied for the NHL lead in goals af­ter the first month of the sea­son, it does seem pos­si­ble he could be­come the first Hawk to hit the mag­i­cal 50-goal mark since Jeremy Roenick scored 50 in 1992-93.

“With­out ques­tion (Kane) has the best chance of any Hawk since I did it,” Roenick said.

That was meant as high praise, but since Roenick’s sec­ond 50goal sea­son — af­ter he scored 53 in 1991-92 — the Hawks haven’t ex­actly been in­un­dated with play­ers threat­en­ing to hit the mark. Only three Hawks have scored 40 goals since then: Kane with 46 dur­ing his 2015-16 MVP sea­son; Tony Amonte, whose three 40goal sea­sons in­cluded a ca­reer­high 44 in 1998-99; and Roenick, who came close to a third straight 50-goal sea­son in 1993-94 but fell four shy.

The only other Hawks to reach 50 are Bobby Hull, who did it five times be­tween 1961 and ’72, and Al Secord with 54 in 1982-83.

Kane has been one of the NHL’s best play­ers for a decade, but he isn’t a pure goal scorer. That’s a de­scrip­tion re­served for pow­er­ful snipers such as Alex Ovechkin, Steven Stamkos and Vladimir Tarasenko, who typ­i­cally fin­ish with more goals than as­sists.

Kane is a bril­liant play­maker who never has had more goals than as­sists in his first 11 sea­sons. But that hasn’t been the case so far this sea­son. Kane, who sat out Wed­nes­day against the Canucks with an ill­ness be­fore re­turn­ing Thurs­day against the Oil­ers, has 11 goals and seven as­sists in 13 games.

So how do you ex­plain Kane’s el­e­vated goal scor­ing? First, he’s shoot­ing more than ever. Through Thurs­day, he led the league with 64 shots on goal and is on pace to fin­ish with far more than his ca­reer-high 292 in 2016-17.

“He has a lit­tle bit more of a shoot-first men­tal­ity,” Hawks coach Joel Quen­neville said. “He has the puck more. He finds a way to get it, and he does some good things with it. … Guys are aware of where he is on the ice and know that’s a good op­tion.

“Kaner has a lit­tle quick­ness that he has added to his game (that) seems to get him a lit­tle bit looser to get a shot away. If he keeps get­ting those looks or quan­tity of looks, I think that pro­duc­tion is go­ing to stay there.”

Kane is scor­ing on 17.2 per­cent of his shots, which would best his ca­reer high of 16.7 in 2012-13.

“When he starts think­ing shoot, it’s dan­ger­ous,” Roenick said. “Not too many guys can shoot with the ac­cu­racy Patrick Kane can.”

Then there’s the fact the Hawks sim­ply need him to score goals. The three play­ers with whom he has played the most even-strength time — Nick Sch­maltz, Bran­don Saad and Artem Anisi­mov — have a com­bined three even-strength goals. Kane has 10.

“That’s what makes him so great,” Roenick said. “He un­der­stands that this team wins or loses by how he and Jonathan Toews play. I think a lit­tle bit more on Patrick be­cause (he’s) a big­ger point get­ter, big­ger goal scorer.”

Kane wasn’t talk­ing specif­i­cally about scor­ing more goals but agreed with a sug­ges­tion his play can reach an­other level this sea­son.

“There’s still some more I can bring as far as con­trol­ling the play and hav­ing the puck more and cre­at­ing plays,” he said. “All play­ers, once they get go­ing, they don’t want to be sat­is­fied with where they’re at. They want to keep im­prov­ing.”

Roenick played in an era when far more goals were scored leaguewide. There were 14 50goal scor­ers in 1992-93, the most ever. There have been only 15 50-goal sea­sons since 2005-06 and none since 2015-16.

“It wasn’t ‘if,’ it was ‘when’ I was go­ing to score in the game,” Roenick said. “It just seemed like ev­ery­thing flowed; I had op­portu- nity af­ter op­por­tu­nity. Goals just seemed to come easy, and when you’re in a groove and the puck’s go­ing in for you, you make bet­ter de­ci­sions and you’re usu­ally in bet­ter places. You get so con­fi­dent when it gets rolling like that.

“You can see what has hap­pened with Patrick. He’s get­ting three or four Grade A op­por­tu­ni­ties a game be­cause he’s feel­ing it. And when you’re feel­ing it, it’s fun to play the game.”

Kane has a long way to go to reach 50.

But the way he has been play­ing, it should be fun to watch him try.

NUC­CIO DIN­UZZO/CHICAGO TRI­BUNE

Patrick Kane would be only the fourth Black­hawk to score 50 goals in a sea­son, join­ing Bobby Hull, Al Secord and Jeremy Roenick.

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