Kane back from Switzerland, hopes to stay in Chicago

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Kane back from Switzerland, hopes to stay in Chicago

Patrick Kane enjoyed his time over in Switzerland, enjoyed playing some actual hockey games these past few months. And while hes set to go back on Sunday if need be, Kanes hoping he doesnt have to.

Kane is back in Chicago while Swiss teams take a break, and joined past and present Blackhawks at their informal skate on Wednesday. And with optimism building that the lockout will soon be over, Kane hopes hell be lacing them up for Blackhawks training camp instead of heading back overseas.

Its tough to tell, to be honest with you with the whole thing. I was getting texts last week telling me Pack your bags. So Im not going to speculate anymore until someone tells me its done, Kane said after practice. But it would be nice not to have to go back Sunday, stay here and get ready for a training camp.

More: NHL, NHLPA to resume talks Wednesday

Yes, weve all been down the close-but-not-close road with the NHL-NHLPA talks. But there really does seem to be growing optimism as the two sides meet with mediators in an undisclosed location which is now reportedly New Jersey.

But during the nonstop lack of negotiation progress and there were months of that -- Kane was staying sharp. It was an experience, and a good on-ice one.

It was different, from the way you play in the 'D' zone to the bigger ice surface to playing with different players, too, he said. It was definitely different. But it was still hockey, I was still playing, and it really helped me get into shape and get my game where I want it to be.

Outside of hockey, life in Biel, Switzerland, was pretty quiet. He and fellow NHLers were recognized there mainly because the cars they drove had the team logo on it but it was otherwise a quiet time.

It wasnt bad. It was really peaceful, Kane said. The toughest part was the language barrier. First language is German, then French, and they speak some English. It was tough to communicate over there. But everyone on the team speaks English, and it was nice having my mom there for a while to make me a meal and just help me with certain things."

More: Mayers says NHL, NHLPA are close, remain optimistic

If Kane does go back, he wont be going with his mom again. He said hell bring his girlfriend. He also said, if the lockout continues, hell also play for HC Davos in Spengler Cup, Dec. 26-31 in Switzerland.

But Kane hopes the lockout is resolved soon, that hes staying put in Chicago for a while, and that hell be prepping for training camp instead of another overseas flight.

Its something you dont really want to do. You want it to be over and done with, Kane said. Its an experience Ill never forget but life is much better here. You dont realize how good you have it here with training staff, equipment managers; youre taken care of so well. But Im glad I did it.

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Avalanche tonight on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Avalanche tonight on CSN

Watch as the Blackhawks take on the Colorado Avalanche tonight on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com. Coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live. Then stick around after the final buzzer to watch Blackhawks Postgame Live for highlights and analysis.

Click here to watch the game or download the NBC Sports App, your home for live streaming coverage of the Blackhawks.

Five Things to Watch:

1. Keep it simple.

There is no team in the league that scores fewer goals per game (2.00) and allows more goals per game (3.32) than the Avalanche, who are 4-18-1 in their last 23 games, including 1-7-0 in their past eight. The Blackhawks need to keep it simple, get bodies in front of the net and take advantage on special teams against a team that ranks in the bottom-seven in both the power play and penalty kill.

2. Will Jonathan Toews' success against Colorado continue?

It's been a tough year for the Blackhawks captain, who has only seven goals and 21 points in 37 games, including three points in his last seven. Earlier this season he went 13 consecutive games without a goal, and snapped that on Dec. 23 against Colorado in a 2-1 overtime loss. He recorded a season-high seven shots on goal in that game, and has scored a goal in each of his last four contests against the Avalanche. They seem to be his slumpbuster, so perhaps he'll come through again.

3. Marian Hossa's impact.

In the first meeting of the season, Hossa scored two goals in a 4-0 win over Colorado. In the second, the Blackhawks were without him after he was sidelined with an upper-body injury, and fell 2-1 in overtime. The Blackhawks are nearly at full strength this time around, with Marcus Kruger the lone injured player who's recovering from an apparent hand injury.

4. Nathan MacKinnon.

After a solid showing at the World Cup of Hockey last fall, MacKinnon was considered a strong candidate to have a breakout season with a new head coach that preaches an up-tempo style of play, right up MacKinnon's ally. But he hasn't reached that level yet, with 28 points in 41 games. Not bad, but not great by his standards as the No. 1 overall pick in 2013. He scored the overtime winner and added an assist in last month's victory against Chicago at the United Center.

5. Short shifts.

This will be the third meeting of the year between the two teams, but the first one in Colorado. Due to the high altitude in the Mile-High City, expect Joel Quenneville to distribute the minutes more evenly throughout their four lines and intstruct the Blackhawks to be short with their shifts, no longer than 40 seconds.

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Blackhawks' rough weekend 'a little bit of a wake-up call'

Blackhawks' rough weekend 'a little bit of a wake-up call'

Patrick Kane was summing up the Blackhawks' weekend, one that didn't go well in terms of points.

"Good way to kind of judge ourselves, where we're at," he said Sunday night. "Might be a little bit of a wake-up call to see how good we really are."

Well, in a way, it is. You can't really compare Friday's loss to Washington and Sunday's loss to Minnesota on performance; the Blackhawks didn't show up for the first game and were much better in the second. Nevertheless, it was the same result in each. The Blackhawks' lengthy hold on first place in the Western Conference ended, with the Wild taking over following Sunday's 3-2 victory.

It's not a sound-the-alarm situation, but the Blackhawks are certainly cognizant of the missed opportunity last weekend and that they came up short against the league's best.

Artem Anisimov agreed with Kane's assessment.

"We just need to play better. All four lines need to play better in all areas of the ice. Just be better in the little things," Anisimov said. "Back check, put stick in the right position, box the guy out, short shifts. All little things need to be better."

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Many of the little things that were absent against the Capitals were back against the Wild. But coach Joel Quenneville wasn't happy with mistakes made on goals allowed, especially the first two. And while Kane and the second line were a consistent scoring threat against the Wild, the other three lines weren't. It's a problem that's plagued the Blackhawks a good deal this season, even when they were stringing together victories.

There is no reason to think that, because of this weekend's results, the Blackhawks are going to falter against strong teams. They've done well against others already this season. They beat Montreal earlier this season, when the Canadiens were healthy and steamrolling everyone. They beat the New York Rangers when the Rangers and former Blackhawks backup goaltender Antti Raanta were on their respective hot streaks.

Still, Kane's analysis is correct: This should get the Blackhawks' attention. The Wild have beaten the Blackhawks in eight consecutive regular-season games now and will face them three more times this season. They have two more meetings with the Edmonton Oilers, who beat them soundly in November.

The Blackhawks' long reign atop the Western Conference standings is over. They’re currently second in the Central Division, with an eight-point cushion over the St. Louis Blues. The Blackhawks have done fairly well this season. But this weekend was a reminder that they can be better.

"The game (on Friday) was kind of like a shock to the system thinking maybe you're one of the top teams in the league, or being able to compete with one of the top teams, and we obviously got thoroughly outplayed. We came back (Sunday night). It was pretty even in chances. We might've even had more so, just kind of didn't pull it out," Kane said. "But (when) you've played two of the better teams in the league and lose, there's got to be room for improvement, right?"