Why Patrick Kane Is Struggling

Francois Lacasse/National Hockey League/Getty Images

A case can be made that Patrick Kane is as popular and ingrained in the North American consciousness as ever before. A willing pitch man, he is in advertisements both local and national, and he was splashed across just about every possible kind of media outlet before the season began.

Kane seems to have shed his reputation as the talented party boy. Instead, the narrative was that, while still brash, Kane’s competitiveness and blossoming all-around game have him poised to help the Chicago Blackhawks win another Cup. After all, he is 25 years old, in the heart of his prime. Yet, the irony is that Kane has really been struggling. Through 16 games, he has four goals and six assists, with more than half of those points coming on the power play.

Coach Joel Quenneville, as good a coach as any in the NHL, has tried to jump-start Kane’s production, moving him around the lineup. He has played with the role players (Ben Smith and Kris Versteeg), and he has played with his buddies Andrew Shaw and Brandon Saad – with whom he made an effective trio in the Los Angeles Kings’ series from last season’s playoffs. He has also lined up with Patrick Sharp, and currently, with Jonathan Toews.

Quenneville put Toews, Chicago’s best two-way player and an excellent playmaker, with Kane because Toews makes everything and everyone better. Toews knows Kane extremely well, and the two have had a strong chemistry together. If Kane’s output was stalling, surely the captain would be able to relieve some of the pressure on Kane, assume some of the puck-handling duties, and allow Kane to find soft spots on the ice and work off the puck. Kane would inevitably heat up, and the Blackhawks’ offense would be the force it usually is. But this hasn’t happened.

Toews has put up numbers, but Kane’s offense continues to sputter. Quenneville even tried to put Kane on the ice for a chance at an empty-net goal the other night to boost his confidence, but Kane ended up finding Toews for the insurance marker. (Kane at least accrued a primary assist from that.)

The stats can shed some light on part of Kane’s struggle. He has the third-worst Corsi percentage on the team among forwards, per Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com. Partially, this is because he receives some of the toughest quality of competition on the Blackhawks. Behindthenet.ca’s data ranges back to 2007-08, and in that span this is the toughest competition that Kane has been employed against. Aside from 2012-13, Kane has finished most seasons with well over 65 percent of his faceoffs in the offensive zone. But not this season. In the 16 games on the docket, he has started only 62.9 percent of faceoffs in the offensive zone. Tougher competition and less offensive zone starts have contributed to his diminished output.

But some of the difficult zone starts and competition that he has been pitted against have been because Quenneville has moved him up and down the lineup, trying to find a line that works. When Toews is taking the faceoff, Quenneville is comfortable with Kane being out there despite it taking place in the Blackhawks’ defensive zone and against the other team’s best line. Kane was so discouraged with his play against Tampa Bay, he willingly benched himself – coming off early — after some poor play on the first power-play unit. Something is amiss. His metrics are inadequate from every angle, and it is more than just usage.

From IH’s vantage point, these are the central problems:

This is simply a critique, not an attack on Kane. IH loves, LOVES watching Kane. When he is at his best and playing great, hockey is a lot more fun. That is why this was such a fascinating article to write.

 1)   Kane is not receiving the puck well and is struggling to find the shooting lanes.

This is especially visible because the Blackhawks are magnificent at coordinating their breakouts and attacking in transition. Chicago’s defensemen are unbelievably good at retrieving pucks, finding the outlets and catalyzing the rush game. The Blackhawks’ record is good, but not great, but their possession metrics are awesome because they gain the zone and stay there.

Even when they cannot create off the rush, Chicago finds ways to dig in on the forecheck. The problem has been that Kane has not been particularly effective on the rush or cycle. He has been catching the puck and stick-handling slightly better of late, but for the season as a whole, the puck has bounced over his stick when he is puck-handling or he has not received the puck cleanly on a pass.

In the offensive and neutral zones, Kane has been the source of a lot of turnovers. The weird part is, he has actually been pretty strong on zone exits for the Blackhawks — which is not an area people typically cite as one of his strengths. Along the half-wall he has been a good outlet and, when the initial breakout fails, he has been a cog that helps facilitate the reset. Any good possession team understands that taking a step sideways or backwards is incumbent to move several steps forward, and Kane is one of the Blackhawks who will toss it back to the Blackhawks defenders for the reset. Kane’s two-way play is still a big work in progress, but his game limping along has been more about his offensive foibles.

2)   Kane is not the biggest or strongest player, but has always demonstrated a way to slide off bigger and stronger players. He is not finding separation.

To a large extent, all of these critiques are connected. One of the reasons Kane is not finding separation is because he is not handling the puck well. When he handles the puck brilliantly, he unlocks passing lanes and room to maneuver because of his deft foot speed, pristine edge work, and incredible vision. But teams are having success sealing him off, whether from the outside when he tries to penetrate in, or when he ventures into the middle when the Blackhawks are positioning themselves for a shot.

One of the virtues of playing with Toews is that Kane only needs to find the quiet ice for a scoring chance; by possessing the puck, Toews draws heavy attention from the defensive coverage. Still, there is always a man tracking Kane. You do not get a reputation for being an offensive genius and go undetected in the offensive zone. And even when he does find room, teams are having a lot of success blocking his shots. He has a good shot, not a great one, and is badly struggling to manufacture a powerful shot through the shooting lane.

One of the ways that Kane typically gains separation is through his ability to whip passes into seams to generate scoring chances. While this has definitely improved of late, he was conceding turnovers seemingly every shift to start the season by trying to make crafty passes that did not find their target. In the last handful of games, though, he has been handling the puck better, and firing passes through lanes that have a wider window with less traffic. One of the things that has made Kane great in the past has been his confidence that he can beat any player(s) carrying the puck and thread any pass through any number of bodies.

But that wasn’t happening this season, and it was going really badly for Chicago. (Kane has been responsible for some crucial transition goals for the opponent.) Kane is cognizant of this fact, and has dialed down the brazen mentality recently, so that he is not supplying enemy skaters with the puck in valuable parts of the ice. Instead, he is trying to make a good, manageable play that maintains possession. If that sounds like a more phlegmatic Kane, that is because his playing style has needed to adjust for the benefit of the team.

3)   Creativity with the puck has been blunted because Kane’s anticipation is off, so he is not having success carrying the puck.

Kane failing to wield the puck in a way that is one step ahead of his opponent’s active stick is an unthinkable concept for most hockey fans. To an extent, it has been almost unthinkable to Chicago and the coaching staff. For a nice portion of this young season, Kane was the primary puck-handling option when Chicago ran set action after set action for him on their power-play zone entry. After successive failures from the first unit to cleanly enter and gain the zone — game after game after game — Chicago began to expand the options for who could attack the blue line and gain the zone.

Kane’s failure to anticipate has hindered his ability to recognize backside pressure, even though doing so has been something he’s excelled at over his career. When he has attacked with the puck this season, teams have had success disrupting him from all angles, whereas in the past Kane has always had a sense of when and where the defense could interrupt his incursions.

Moreover, one of Kane’s biggest threats has been his ability to beat defenders one-on-one, and to expose opposing skaters’ clunky footwork, stick or body positioning, or slow pivot. Sporadically, he has been able to do that, but Kane’s attempts to eliminate costly turnovers from his game have seen him looking for help instead of trying to win the individual match-up at every opportunity. Hopefully, when he finds his game and his confidence is restored, he can go into attack mode at every chance again. When he is playing well, and he can consistently beat defenders one-on-one, he is dominant.

4)   Failing as forechecker.

Kane is not cordoning off the wall as the third man high or squelching his man in the one-on-one battle on the forecheck. When a player is the third man high, as Kane often is, a player can collect prime scoring chances by positioning himself shrewdly when the two forecheckers squeeze the opposing puck-carrier and jump the outlet(s) the opponent is trying to utilize. Kane has been a step slow in being in the right position to gain possession and glean a scoring chance, or he has not been able to cleanly execute when he is properly stationed. That is the key. His anticipation is off and when he anticipates correctly, he is not taking advantage of the opportunity. Also, he is failing to win inside position off the puck.


 Giving out a diagnosis is not a lot of fun — especially in this case, because there is not an obvious remedy. Chicago has positioned Kane in a variety of ways — with different teammates and usage — but so far, this has not ignited his game.

Kane’s puck-handling has been a little better of late, and with that, hopefully he can get a better feel for the puck and start receiving it better. Commanding the puck more adroitly will lead to success finding the shooting lanes and penetrating the middle of the ice. He is averaging less than three shots a game, so to hit the 30-goal mark, he will need to drastically increase his volume of shots. The best prescription may be keeping him with Toews and much better puck luck.

Toews is an elixir, and even if the results are not tangible yet, Kane is playing better. Having someone drawing the attention of the defense, making the right decisions in all three zones, and driving play, allows Kane to be the recipient of some prime scoring opportunities. Kane is visibly frustrated, and his situation has to be incredibly difficult to experience, but Toews is the right man to lift him out of his morass.

Finally, Kane’s shooting percentage at five on five is an unthinkable 3.2. He is shooting and looking for his shot more, but he needs to catch the puck and release it faster so that the opponent cannot throw himself in front of his shot — or catch the puck and change the shooting angle in a way that does not get blocked. Of the two, he has been trying the latter more frequently, but to little success. His miniscule shooting percentage is going to improve, but he needs to keep firing away. Good luck Kaner. IH is rooting for you.

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Posted in the Category of: Features


  1. i hope this is a joke!


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