Kane embraces being center of attention

553516.jpg

Kane embraces being center of attention

It was less than two weeks ago when Joel Quenneville dropped the news in an oh-by-the-way fashion in Detroit: he was going to try Patrick Kane at center. It was an experiment, a chance to see what Kane, who had played center growing up, could do with it at this level.

It was surprising to hear. Even Kane, who said general manager Stan Bowman talked to him about playing center last summer, sounded a bit reluctant.

"Especially coming off the wrist injury I thought I was going right to right wing and just getting back into that," Kane said Wednesday. "But it's been good so far."

It's been so good that it's carrying over to Friday's season opener, when Kane will center his line with Andrew Brunette and Marian Hossa when the Blackhawks play the Dallas Stars. Coach Joel Quenneville has liked what he's seen from that trio -- Kane and Hossa have a natural chemistry and Brunette is finding his niche with them -- and how Kane's adjusted.

"He'll continue to grow in that area but his instincts ard good on both sides," Quenneville said after the Blackhawks' preseason finale in Washington D.C. "He'll improve in his position down low."

For Kane, this has been one more job to add to the resume. It was one thing to have a center past as a kid, another to do it at this level. But his comfort level with Hossa has helped, and Hossa and Brunette have assisted him with the down-low play.

"We've talked about it, the three of us. We all have pretty good experience.They're down low first and they'll stay there and come up with pucks," Kane said. "Offensively hopefully we can just work our magic and be a good line."

Bowman, who is confident with the Blackhawks' depth at center, never doubted Kane's ability to play there.

"He's such a smart player," Bowman said. "I like watching him play with Marian. The one difficulty we've had is those two never played together because they played the same position. We like how that's worked so far."

Linemate Brunette said "the center has the puck a lot and that falls right into his strengths. It's a tough position in your own end, and that's probably something he feels the need to get used to. But it's something he can definitely do."

It sounds like Kane is embracing this challenge more now than a few weeks ago. He has said he wants to prove to others and to himself that he can play this spot.

It would still be surprising if Kane's at center come the end of the season. Then again, the experiment that seemed likely to last just a preseason game or two is continuing. As long as it works, Kane will stay put.

"Starting the regular season we'll do it a little bit," Kane said. "It would be nice to prove I can play center, that I can play a couple different positions, show some versatility for the coaches. There have been some good things and bad things. Hopefully I keep getting better at it."

Tracey Myers is CSNChicago.com's Blackhawks Insider. Follow Tracey on Twitter @TramyersCSN for up-to-the-minute Hawks information.

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.

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

- Check out the latest stats and standings to make sure you’re ready for action

- Channel Finder: Make sure you know where to watch

- NBC Sports App FAQ: All your questions answered

- Latest on the Blackhawks: All of the most recent news and notes

- See what Blackhawks fans are talking about before, during and after the game with Blackhawks Pulse

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."

[SHOP BLACKHAWKS: Get your Blackhawks gear right here]

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?"