When it comes to Patrick Kane, the NHL’s third-leading scorer this season, it’s difficult to ask for anything more.
But the Blackhawks have no choice but to do so.
The Hawks likely will need seven or eight wins over their final 10 games to qualify for the playoffs, and all 10 are against teams above them in the standings — including four against the Predators and Stars, the two teams they must catch.
They’ll need heroic performances from all of their best players to pull it off, and that list unquestionably starts with Kane.
“He wants to score,” coach Jeremy Colliton said Sunday, before the Hawks fell into a deeper hole with Monday’s 5-2 loss. “He puts a lot of pressure on himself to come through for the team. It’s only natural to be wanting more. But he has had his chances. Hopefully . . . he can use [his goal Saturday] to get going again.”
Kane scored his milestone 400th career goal Feb. 28, the Hawks’ 23rd game of the season. At that point, he had already tallied 11 goals and 23 assists for 34 points.
He has now played exactly 23 games since then, too, yet registered only four goals and 19 assists for 23 points.
Many NHL players long for a point-per-game pace like that. But the rebuilding Hawks rely so heavily on Kane right now that they objectively need more from him in order to survive.
The huge drop-off in goals is the biggest area of concern, and while bad luck has contributed — opposing goalies’ save percentage against Kane has ballooned from .866 in the first segment to .947 in the second — Kane feels the pressure.
“For the most part, I’ve had my chances,” he said Sunday. “It just hasn’t really been there for me, the finish lately. That’s been disappointing because that’s something I usually feel I’m pretty good at.”
Digging deeper into the analytics reveals some genuine reasons for concern regarding Kane’s second-half decline, even if it is understandable for a 32-year-old forward playing a condensed season with a less-than-loaded supporting cast.
At even strength, Kane took 105 shot attempts through Feb. 28. He has taken only 73 since. Of those attempts, the percentage credited as scoring chances has dropped from 58.1% to 54.8%.
Those individual declines mirror the Hawks’ team statistics during Kane’s ice time. They took 338 cumulative even-strength shot attempts, of which 53.3% were scoring chances, during his first 23 games. They’ve taken only 307, of which only 45.0% have been scoring chances, during his last 23.
The end result is that Kane’s underlying stats for the 2021 season are now among the worst of his career.
His individual shot attempts rate is the lowest since his second NHL season; his individual scoring chances rate is his second-lowest since his rookie season (only 2015-16 was lower). The Hawks’ shot attempt and scoring chance rates during Kane’s ice time, meanwhile, are both the lowest since his rookie season.
The Hawks now must hope Kane finds a hidden energy tank for their backs-against-the-wall stretch run.
Perhaps Vinnie Hinostroza, Kane’s new linemate the last few games, can be the spark. They’ve shown promise so far, with a 3-1 goal differential and 11-8 scoring-chance differential together, and Kane recently said he has “always liked playing” with Hinostroza.
Perhaps some regression to the mean will also kick in. Colliton, for one, is praying it will.
“He’s going through a stretch where he’s not converting,” Colliton said recently. “That’s not going to carry on. He’s going to finish. He’s had some really good looks. He’s hit some people. Our own guy blocked a couple that were going in. He’s had some other ones that typically he finds a way to finish.
“We know he’s going to come through. We got some big games coming up, so it’d be a good time for that shooting percentage to even out.”