CHICAGO (CBS) — The game was on the line in overtime. The Blackhawks were seeking the first goal of the game and that critical second point.
Coach Joel Quenneville put captain Jonathan Toews on the ice with Teuvo Teravainen. Was it a vote of confidence for the rookie forward, playing his best hockey of late?
“Yeah,” Quenneville said. “We didn’t have Kaner.”
Loosely translating from “Q speak”: “Our best player is out for another 10 weeks — what else am I supposed to do?”
Hardly mincing words, Quenneville’s “Seinfeld”-like low-talking spoke of the frustration felt after the Blackhawks’ 1-0 overtime loss to the Original Six rival New York Rangers. Chicago had more than 60 minutes and four power-play chances to find the back of the net on goaltender Cam Talbot and failed. “Chelsea Dagger” didn’t play once at United Center on Sunday night.
Without Patrick Kane, the Blackhawks have failed to score on their last 15 man advantages, with their last coming on the ensuing power play for the Florida Panthers’ cross-check that put Kane to the boards and his clavicle out of place.
In the past two seasons, Chicago has been shut out six times in the 18 games without Kane’s services.
“There’s a void there, and there’s opportunities,” Quenneville said. “Somebody’s got to seize it.”
That’s the convenient answer. In a perfect world, someone in that red sweater plays out-of-his-mind, Kane-like hockey and ignites the Blackhawks’ struggling offense. Quenneville has tried with the coach-y non-verbal messages, even scratching Bryan Bickell and his $4 million contract from the lineup.
In reality, Kane’s skates are too big to fill. “Showtime” was playing at a level worthy of the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player. At the time of his injury, he was tied for the league lead in points.
Given the initial 12-week timetable for Kane’s recovery — something the forward stood by when speaking to reporters Sunday morning — the only possibility for a return this season would come in the Western Conference Final.
After another offensive struggle for Chicago on Sunday, it’s only fair to wonder whether this team can reach that point in the playoffs.
Still, the Blackhawks stood firm in their belief that they will be just fine without Kane on the ice.
“We just got to get a greasy goal, sometimes get a rebound and the shots will go in,” defenseman Duncan Keith said.
Added forward Kris Versteeg: “We know we have guys in the (locker) room who can do it. It’s just about doing it.”
General manager Stan Bowman worked before the deadline to ensure the loss of Kane wasn’t fatal, doing so with more cap room created by Kane’s spot on IR. Center Antoine Vermette is a smart, productive player who meshes well with his new teammates, but that alone can’t replace Kane. Nobody can.
The numbers suggest it’s more than just a few breaks needed to change the Blackhawks’ fortunes. There’s a real problem with Chicago’s most productive offensive weapon out of the lineup.
Excluding a drubbing of the abysmal Carolina Hurricanes, the Blackhawks have put just five shots past a goaltender since Kane’s injury on Febr. 24. In that span, they have zero — zip, nil, nada — goals on the power play, which is supposed to be a reward in exchange for a penalty. Instead, it’s a reason for boos to rain down at United Center.
“Nothing to take away from Kaner — you guys obviously know what kind of player he is — but we’ve got quality players out there as well that can play the power play,” forward Patrick Sharp said.
Oh, by the way, that’s the same Sharp who is without a goal in his last 18 games and has just two assists since Jan. 28.
The Blackhawks are counting on Sharp to find his game, on Marian Hossa to surge again, on Jonathan Toews to carry this team and even the rookie, Teravainen, to create offense the way Kane can.
Quenneville counting on a rookie in crunch time is shocking like 34 degrees in a Chicago February. But what else could Coach Q do?
There’s no way to truly fill the void of Kane.
Follow Chris on Twitter @CEmma670.