Line changes: Kane back at right wing

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Line changes: Kane back at right wing

Patrick Kane said earlier this season he felt more comfortable on right wing. On Thursday, he was back there.

Kane was at wing again with Jonathan Toews and Viktor Stalberg as the Chicago Blackhawks prepped for the New York Islanders. It was one of several line changes for the Blackhawks, who also had Marcus Kruger centering the second line with Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa

For Kane, its a change thats not really a change. He feels better there, and it never hurts to reunite with Toews, either.

Weve played together a lot and theres chemistry. Whenever were put together, it raises the excitement, Kane said. Im sure itll take some shifts to get used to it again but Im excited about the opportunity. Whenever you play with Johnny, Sharpie or Hossa, youre going to be excited about it.

Kane proved he could play the center position just fine through the first two months of the season, and his line with Hossa and Daniel Carcillo thrived through October. But as November continued, that lines production quieted. Kane has just three assists over his last six games.

I proved I could play there. But I got on the road and got on a long trip and things didnt click for me, personally, at that position. They thought my game was fine there, I didnt, Kane said. Im excited to be back at the wing, playing the game that I know and developed for a long time. Its not going to come back right away; it may be a couple shifts or periods maybe. But Ill get familiar with it.

Dont be surprised if it doesnt click right away, however. Kane and Toews just have that chemistry together and its likely to come back together again soon. Toews feels it, too.

The good thing about playing with Kaner is sometimes you can just get away from the puck and get away from all the attention on the ice and sneak back door and hide sometimes, Toews said. He can hold onto it, get his head up and back opponents up and buy some time. Its nice to play with a guy like that.

Things were getting stagnant, so coach Joel Quenneville is making changes to try and re-invigorate that offense again. Kane proved he can play center with no problem, and he could go back there again this season. He just does right wing better.

Everybodys had stretches where theyve been at top end of their game and producing at rate theyre accustomed to; theyve all had stretches where it hasnt come. When you move them around a little bit, sometimes it comes out and all of a sudden theyre more confident in scoring area and get back to where we expect them to be, Quenneville said. Both lines should be able to score and produce regularly. We have a lot of options. This is one we havent explored yet. Its one well try.

Briefly

Jonathan Toews was named the NHLs No. 2 star for the month of November. Toews finished November with nine goals and 18 assists. He had a career-high five points in the Blackhawks 6-5 victory over the Anaheim Ducks on Friday.

Defensemen Brent Seabrook and Steve Montador also took maintenance day on Thursday. Theyre both expected to play Friday night. Corey Crawford will start against the Islanders.

Blackhawks acquire Michael Latta from Kings in swap of minor leaguers

Blackhawks acquire Michael Latta from Kings in swap of minor leaguers

The Blackhawks made a minor league deal on Saturday, announcing the acquisition of forward Michael Latta from the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for defenseman Cameron Schilling.

Latta, 25, has two goals and four assists in 29 games this season with the Ontario (Calif.) Reign of the American Hockey League.

He has four goals and 13 assists in 113 career games in the National Hockey League, all with the Washington Capitals from 2013-16.

Latta, who was a third-round pick (No. 72 overall) by the Nashville Predators in 2009, will report to the AHL's Rockford IceHogs. He carries a $600,000 cap hit, and is a restricted free agent at the end of the season.

Schilling ranked second among defensemen on the IceHogs with 17 points (seven goals, 10 assists) in 40 games, and had a minus-3 rating. The 28-year-old blue liner signed a two-year contract worth $575,000 per season with the Blackhawks in July 2015.

One-goal victories are great but Blackhawks’ method has to change

One-goal victories are great but Blackhawks’ method has to change

See the Blackhawks get off to a slow start. See the Blackhawks get outshot. See the Blackhawks lean on their goaltending. See the Blackhawks find some offense in the third period. See the Blackhawks win.

This is a story the Blackhawks have written and played out plenty this season. Despite all evidence that it should work out to the contrary, the Blackhawks continue to pull out victories. But as we're well into the second half of the season, how much longer can they win with this formula? And is this, more than anything, a testament to how much they need to acquire someone (or plural) at the deadline to bolster their forward lineup?

Entering Sunday night's game against Vancouver the Blackhawks remain second in the Western Conference, two points behind Minnesota. Not surprisingly, they enter Sunday coming off another one-goal victory, a 1-0 decision over Boston on Friday night. Friday's game was cut from the same cloth as so many other one-goal games this season (please see above for the script). 

Here's how the Blackhawks are doing in one-goal games (through 48 games played this season) and how they've done in previous seasons:

Year Record
2016-17 18-7-5
2015-16 17-7-9
2014-15 22-13-6
2013-14 17-8-15
2012-13 19-3-5 (lockout yr.)
2011-12 22-6-11
2010-11 16-13-9
2009-10 23-9-8

The Blackhawks played 41 one-goal games (half of their regular-season games) in the 2014-15 season. Thirty of their 48 games this season have been one-goal games. But again, it comes down to how you're winning those games, and the Blackhawks are winning just about all of them in the same way: deal with a slow start and come back in the third period, relying on goaltending the entire time.

Being outshot the amount of times the Blackhawks have this season remains alarming. Sure, sometimes a lot of shots don't mean a lot of quality chances. But it's still better than minimal shots, and any shot can be an opportunity for a rebound, a deflection, something. From our stats guru Chris Kamka, here's a breakdown of the Blackhawks' shots per game vs. opponents, dating back to 2008-09:

Year Shots/Gm Opp. Shots/Gm Diff.
2008-09 32.7 28.6 +4.2
2009-10 34.1 25.1 +9.1
2010-11 32.2 28.7 +3.6
2011-12 31.5 28.6 +3.0
2012-13 31.1 26.2 +4.9
2013-14 33.1 27.2 +6.0
2014-15 33.9 30.2 +3.8
2015-16 30.5 30.8 -0.3
2016-17 29.3 31.1 -1.7

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

It's no surprise that the Blackhawks' differential was especially good in their Stanley Cup-winning seasons (and even 2013-14, when they went to the Western Conference Final). Those Blackhawks teams were deep, especially at forward. They weren't waiting for the perfect shooting opportunities as much as just firing. They had great four-line rotations, something they've sorely been lacking the past two seasons, which makes a difference with puck possession.

The Blackhawks will see what's available at the trade deadline. As I wrote a few days ago, there will be names out there but, considering some teams are still hoping for playoff spots, you take mentions for what they are right now. Over the next few weeks the picture will become clearer, and adding the right depth could rekindle that four-line rotation.

We've said throughout this season that the Blackhawks can't keep this up. We said it in November, and December, and now. Understand where we're coming from here; the Blackhawks can absolutely keep winning one-goal games. They've shown that in recent seasons and in the postseason, when the ability to do that is critical. But it's doubtful they can keep doing it the way they have most this season.