|ESPN.com: NHL Playoffs 2013||[Print without images]|
LOS ANGELES -- Patrick Kane sat in his stall, patiently and politely answering essentially the same question dressed up about 24 different ways.
Why isn't he scoring? Why has he gone seven games without a goal, putting up just two assists in that span?
Through three games of the Western Conference finals, No. 88 has been pretty invisible despite his team being up 2-1 in the series.
"It's not that all of a sudden that I'm a bad player," Kane said on the eve of Game 4 against the Los Angeles Kings. "It just doesn't happen like that. I had a good regular season, and I'm still a good player in this league and can make plays. It's something I've just got to go out and do. I can't take no for an answer, and [have to] go out and do it.''
Remarkably, since scoring the Cup-clinching goal in overtime of Game 6 in Philadelphia in June 2010, Kane has put up only three goals in his past 28 playoff games.
If that number doesn't jump out at you, I don't know what would.
This is a 24-year-old player with oodles of offensive talent, who put up 55 points (23-32) in 48 games this season, fifth best in the NHL. It was a dominant performance and garnered Kane some level of MVP talk.
But after busting out early with eight points (2-6) in his first eight playoff games this spring, Kane has slowed down nearly to a halt.
And he's got a legitimate point. Look no further than the past two Stanley Cup champions in Boston and Los Angeles to see the brand of hockey that, while still fun to watch, certainly reflects a more grinding, physical style in which goals are harder to come by.
It's harder to find open space in the playoffs the past few years, and that's something Kane knows he must fight through.
"I think you can create room in different ways," said Kane. "I'm not the biggest guy, and I've used different ways to help myself get that space. Whether it's support on the puck or using your linemates to your advantage or just trying to be sneaky and quick, that can help, too. There's certain things you want to look at to see how you can free yourself up.
"But I look back at all three games, I probably didn't play my best, but I still have had one or two good chances in each game to score. You could look at that and say the chances, there could be more obviously, but when you're getting one or two, you've got to bear down and make sure those count.''
National TV hockey analyst Darren Pang has his own read on Kane's struggles.
"No. 1, most goal scorers are going to struggle if they don't have a creative centerman with them. Michal Handzus is not a creative centerman," Pang said of Kane's linemate. "Handzus is a very dependable player, a solid 200-foot center. But setting up his wingers for a lot of quality scoring chances isn't part of his game now.
"I also think Kane is taking too many shots from the outside. He needs to change his mindset and get to more rebounds, he has to find a way to get to the interior of the dot more.''
It appears Kane's morale might be a little shaken. He's not the happy-go-lucky guy we've seen before when around this team.
Perhaps as an indicator of that, he took a trip down memory lane to boost his spirits and to remind himself what he was doing so well when he was filling the net in big playoff games.
"The other day myself and my dad watched all my playoff goals from my career," said Kane. "It's cool to watch those things, it gives you a little confidence.''
He said while watching the video he looks for things that can help him now.
"Yeah, looking for anything, the way they defend, the way I play,'' said Kane.
What Kane might have noticed when watching those clips was that a little black disk was attached to his stick. Great offensive players want the puck on their stick at all times.
"I think when he has more speed in his game, he seems to have the puck a lot more," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said Wednesday. "When he's playing his best hockey, he has the puck, he's dangerous with it, being off the rush in zone, coming off of our end. When he has the puck, not too many players in the league can do what he can do."
Kane believes he has sat back too much waiting for the play to come to him, rather than being more assertive and going after it.
"I think sometimes you try to be patient and wait for the puck to come to you, but for me personally I'm at my best when I'm going and getting the puck and making plays when I get it, no matter where it is on the ice, defensive zone, neutral zone, offensive zone," said Kane. "So, I think that's where I can improve.''
It's been a long season for Kane, who played in Switzerland during the lockout. But whether or not fatigue has set in, Kane refused to go down that path.
"I feel great," he said. "It's not an excuse right now. I still feel in great shape. I'm not getting tired on the ice. I'm fine out there.''
Game 4 seems like just the stage for Kane to break out. He's due. He's angry. He's motivated. And he still believes in himself.
"I'm still a good player, I can still make plays, I just got to have the confidence and will to do it,'' said Kane.