Patrick Kane still ‘happy to be playing hockey,’ even as Blackhawks struggle

Back in training camp and during the opening weeks of this season, Patrick Kane raved about how much happier and healthier the Blackhawks’ collective mood was compared to last season.

That was when the Hawks were winning, though. Since that 4-2-0 start, they’ve gone 2-8-3, including a horrendous meltdown Wednesday against the Stars — their fifth straight loss.

So how does Kane feel now?

“It’s always better when you win, there’s no doubt about that,” he said Wednesday. “We’re into the midst of the season right now where there’s a lot of games. We still hang out with the team quite a bit, especially when you’re on the road, but there’s not as many set days for that. We did a lot of that at the beginning of the season, which is good for a new group, and now we’re just in the middle of it.”

In other words, he’s not as chipper as he was earlier this fall, but he isn’t miserable, either.

He certainly doesn’t seem like a man eager to jump ship out of Chicago, which is notable as the NHL’s March 3 trade deadline slowly grows closer. With his no-movement clause intact, he still holds all the cards when it comes to that decision.

“I’m happy to be playing hockey,” he added. “It’s what I love to do. I’ll try to help this team as much as possible. Hopefully I can help a little more going forward.”

Kane tallied an assist Wednesday for his 15th point in 19 games this season, which leads the Hawks — Max Domi ranks second with 14 points and Jonathan Toews third with 13 — but still represents a relatively slow start by Kane’s career standards. He’s on pace to finish with 65 points, down from 92 last year.

He talked earlier this month about searching for more puck touches and possession. He clarified Wednesday he’s trying to do that by verbally “demanding” the puck more often, as well as by circling lower in the neutral and defensive zones to make it easier for teammates to get it to him.

He has recorded 10 shots on goal over the Hawks’ last four games, up from his 1.6 shots-per-game average during Hawks games No. 5 to 15. (He recorded 10 in the first four games of the season, as well.) He also snapped a 10-game goal drought by scoring Sunday against the Penguins.

“I’m sure he’d feel good with a roll,” Hawks coach Luke Richardson said. “He’s still getting opportunities every game — a guy like that is going to — and it’d be nice to see them falling consistently for him. Not just himself but also the rest of the team would breathe easier knowing that he’s getting on the board multiple times a game or week.”

One positive for Kane is that his body has held up significantly better health-wise this season. He has battled through a nagging injury for several years now, but it seems to have become less of an issue lately.

As the season grinds on, that could help him eventually elevate his scoring pace.

“Obviously I’d love to have a little bit more production, but to be honest with you, I feel better this year than I did last year,” he said. “You learn different things [over time] about your body and what’s going on and how to maintain it. [With] little injuries here and there, how to maintain them, take care of them. I’m happy with the way things have gone so far this year with my body.”

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