Kane takes command when Blackhawks need him most

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Kane takes command when Blackhawks need him most

Jamal Mayers was choosing his words cautiously regarding Patrick Kane.

I have to be careful. I dont want his head to get any bigger than it already is, Mayers said jokingly after Saturdays practice.

All kidding aside, however, the veteran admires the 23-year-old Kanes recent role. Playing the No. 1 center position can be an unenviable task. But Kanes play there in the absence of Jonathan Toews has been stellar.

Ive been telling him for a couple weeks now that hes surprised me in raising his game, Mayers continued. Hes skating the best hes ever skated. And you add his vision and awareness on the ice and he has the opportunity to be the best player on the ice every night.

Kanes work lately could be measured in a few ways. The obvious is points: Kane has nine in his last nine games, including five (two goals, three assists) in his current four-game point streak. But thats just looking at the obvious. Kane has been skating well, is always a threat and is part of a strong top line with Marian Hossa and Andrew Brunette.

And hes taken on some leadership, too.

I like the fact that hes absorbing responsibility without Johnny around, coach Joel Quenneville said. He knows the importance of the situation with our team, where we we're at and where we are today. He wants to make an impact on games and its been noticeable.

Viktor Stalberg agreed.

Hes had some stretches where hes struggled. Hes still a young guy; you kind of forget that sometimes. But the last couple games hes been great for us, he said. We needed someone to fill that first-line center void for Toews and hes been doing a good job with it.

Kane, for his part, doesnt feel hes doing anything different than normal. He said recently that he does feel good at center right now and its showing. But Kane said its been a team effort in Toews absence.

You see a lot of guys playing a lot of different roles now and its nice to see everybody step up, too, he said. Everyone knows we miss Johnny but theres no predicting when hell be back. We have to have different players step up, get a little bit more ice time and more opportunity. Its a good test for everyone.

That includes Kane. Hes still 23, still has years ahead of him. But at a time when hes needed to grow in his game and take charge, he has.

Hes definitely taken a step forward, Mayers said. And it hasnt gone unnoticed.

Jonathan Toews practices but won’t play vs. Flyers

Jonathan Toews practices but won’t play vs. Flyers

Jonathan Toews sounded somewhat frustrated but cognizant of the situation.

If it were the postseason there’s no doubt he would be playing right now. That’s not a surprise to hear, considering what hockey players put themselves through when the playoffs start. But this is early December. There are too many games remaining. And with it coming down to making sure he’s healthy for the long haul, it’s an easy call.

Toews practiced on Friday for the first time since being hurt, but he won’t travel to Philadelphia when the Blackhawks face the Flyers on Saturday afternoon. It will be the fifth consecutive game Toews has missed since he was hurt against the San Jose Sharks on Nov. 23. Still, him skating on his own and then practicing with teammates for a few minutes is a good sign that Toews is closing in on a return.

“Just come back and check in again [Saturday], see how it is and hopefully, I guess as they say, re-evaluate for Sunday,” Toews said on Friday. “It’s never fun to miss any time, especially when the team is playing as many games as they are. So nice to get back out there and move around and get going a little bit.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

Toews was placed on injured reserve on Friday, retroactive to Nov. 24, the day after he was injured.  Coach Joel Quenneville said he’ll see how Toews feels on Saturday and, “we’ll get a better idea going forward. But he’s not on the trip.”

“You gotta be fully recovered and want to make sure guys are 100 percent before they can play,” Quenneville said. “Jonny plays at a certain pace and it’s all out, so let’s make sure he’s more than ready when he’s coming back.”

Several have reported that Toews has a back injury, and the captain was doing several back stretches during Friday’s session. Toews left in the second period of the Blackhawks’ 2-1 loss to the Sharks, moments after he went down awkwardly. But Toews said he wasn’t hurt on that play. 

“I think it was just something that started to aggravate in the first period. I tried playing in the second and that instance right there, just went down like a ton of bricks,” Toews said. “I was trying not to aggravate the injury more than I already had. That wasn’t where I got hurt; [it was] probably the instance people were looking for to see what the explanation was.”

If this were April and the playoffs were about to begin, Toews probably wouldn’t be as patient with his injury. But it isn’t, and he will be. It’s not worth making worse. The Blackhawks have managed to get points in his absence, going 3-0-1 so far.

“It’s the type of thing most guys would be able to suck up and play if it were a playoff game and putting everything on the line. But at this point, with the amount of games left in the season, it’s not something you want to continuously deal with,” he said. “If you aggravate it, it’ll keep coming back to haunt you. It’s tough to hold back and do less than you know you can, but in the long run, trying to make sure I get back to 100 percent.”

BRIEFLY

- Trevor van Riemsdyk was activated off the injured-reserve list and is expected to play against the Flyers.

- Marian Hossa took practice off. He is expected to play.

-  Corey Crawford will start vs. Philadelphia.

Blackhawks Road Ahead: Feasting on the East

Blackhawks Road Ahead: Feasting on the East

Pat Boyle, Steve Konroyd and Jamal Mayers have the latest on Joel Quenneville's group in this edition of the Blackhawks Road Ahead, sponsored by Chicagoland NW Indiana Honda dealers.

The Blackhawks are once again taking care of business, going 3-0-1 with their captain Jonathan Toews on the sideline. They're also 6-2-2 against the East this year, and they'll get another chance to add to that record when they take on the Flyers this week.

Here's what our Blackhawks Postgame Live crew had to say about the team's upcoming matchups in this week's Honda Road Aehad.