The Blackhawks played Sunday for the fifth time since Kane fractured his clavicle. The results so far have been mixed. With a 1-0 overtime loss to the New York Rangers on Sunday, the Blackhawks have gone 3-1-1 without Kane. His absence has especially been felt in their offense and on their power play.
The Blackhawks weren't lighting the lamp all that often, even before Kane was injured, but their goal-scoring has dropped further without him. The Blackhawks were 11th in the league, with a 2.83 goals-for average, with Kane though 61 games. Without him, they have scored nine total goals, which includes a five-goal game and an empty-netter in another game, and they have fallen to 16th with a 2.74 goals-for average. They have scored more than two goals, excluding empty-netters, only once in the past 10 games.
Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville anticipated the Blackhawks would lose some offense without Kane, who was tied atop the league in points, but he didn't expect it to be this much.
"Without Kane, we said in order to be effective we got to make sure we check first," Quenneville said. "That's how you win in this league anyway. I still think there's opportunities there [to score]. Sometimes we look for better plays. But sometimes the play at the net, we don't shoot it because there's nobody at the net. I think that's where it's going to be more predictable, where somebody's there and it's going there."
Quenneville and his players turned to the usual phrases when a team is enduring a scoring drought. They spoke about getting the puck in the middle of the ice, getting more net-front presence and finding a way to score greasy goals.
Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp ran through almost all of them.
"With the offense, it's the same old answer I can give you," Sharp said. "It's getting to the net. It's knowing where the puck is going. It's funneling toward the net pucks and bodying to disrupt them."
Sharp and the Blackhawks have had some quality chances in the past few games. Sharp was denied on a breakaway against the Edmonton Oilers on Friday and had another great opportunity off a rebound Sunday. The Blackhawks' second line of Brandon Saad, Antoine Vermette and Teuvo Teravainen also created plenty Sunday.
Ultimately, though, the Blackhawks aren't being judged on chances, but on goals. Right now, they're not scoring them, and the only reason they have hung in the past two games is goaltender Corey Crawford. He has made 81 saves on 83 shots in two games. He received a standing ovation for two series of back-to-back saves in the third period Sunday.
Adding to the Blackhawks' offensive frustration has been their power play. Teams are giving them man-advantages, and they have been nowhere near capitalizing on them. With four more failed power plays Sunday, the Blackhawks haven't scored a power-play goal in 15 consecutive tries. They've had five shots on goal in their past six power plays.
Quenneville can live with the power play when it doesn't score but resembles something decent. But he has a real problem with the way it has played lately, when getting into the offensive zone and getting set up has often been an adventure.
"Power play, I think, slows our team game down a bit," Quenneville said. "I think the guys that are out there don't get the production, and all of a sudden they get some hesitation in their game, [and] it slows down. I think in the last 10 games it's happened too many times."
That's where Kane is missed the most. The Blackhawks had gone to using him on both power-play units not long before his injury.
"I think we realize how fortunate we are when you got Kaner on your power play, be it entries, loose pucks, patience, play recognition," Quenneville said. "All of a sudden, there's a great opportunity. You know there's a void there, and there's opportunities at the same time. Someone has to seize it and grab it. I think that when we do it that'll be a big difference in our team game."
Sharp made that same point. Asked about missing Kane on the power play following Sunday's game, Sharp voiced respect for Kane, but he also thought the Blackhawks had to stop using his absence as a crutch.
"We're used to having Kaner out there," Sharp said. "Not going to take away from Kane. You guys obviously know kind of player he is, but we've got quality players out there as well. They have played on the power play before. It's a focus of ours to get better."
The positive for the Blackhawks is they have still been compiling points without Kane and have been gaining ground in the Central Division. They moved to within five points of the Nashville Predators and three points of the St. Louis Blues on Sunday.
"Especially when we don't have the guy that made a difference a lot of the year for us," Quenneville said. "Every game is a challenge. Everybody needs points in the worst way. That's what we're looking to do. We still should be looking to improve off those levels."