NBCSN’s coverage of the 2020-21 NHL season continues with Sunday’s matchup between the Chicago Blackhawks and Tampa Bay Lightning. Blackhawks-Lightning stream coverage begins at 2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.
It is safe to say that the Chicago Blackhawks are exceeding expectations so far this season. They enter Sunday’s game against the Tampa Bay Lightning (2:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN) in a playoff spot in the Central Division with a six-point cushion over the fifth-place team (Columbus Blue Jackets) in the division. At this point they are more likely to make the playoffs than they are to miss, which would be an incredible accomplishment given where they were when the season began.
Not only are they in the middle of a rebuild with what seemed to be questionable goaltending, but injuries to some key young players (Kirby Dach and Alex Nylander) and a health issue for team captain Jonathan Toews took a significant chunk out of their lineup. When they won just two of their first nine games, the season already seemed to be over.
They have done a complete 180 since then. Even though their upcoming schedule is going to be a major test, they have put themselves in a strong position. Given the way these first two games against Tampa Bay have gone (collecting three out of a possible four points) they are off to a good start.
The two biggest factors in their surprising success this season have been the play of rookie goalie Kevin Lankien (almost certainly the biggest factor) and the fact Patrick Kane has remained a force offensively.
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The top-line duo of Patrick Kane and Alex DeBrincat has almost single-handedly driven the Chicago offense this season as they are not only the top scorers on the team by a wide margin, at least one of them has been on the ice for 47 of the team’s 77 goals this season (that is 61 percent!). They have both been on the ice at the same time for 36 of them (47 percent).
A week ago he reached a personal milestone by becoming the 100th player in league history to reach the 400-goal mark for his career. It also places him 10th all-time among American-born players.
At age 32 that should — and assuming he can avoid significant injury — put him on track to at some point reach the 500-goal mark at some point in his career, something that only four other American-born players (Mike Modano, Keith Tkachuk, Jeremy Roenick, and Joe Mullen) have done.
Expecting him to catch Modano’s mark of 561 might be asking a lot, but the top-three (and maybe even second) are certainly within reach.
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What stands out about Kane’s career recently is that his goal-scoring has actually improved as he has gone deeper into his career. While most players tend to see their statistical peak around age 23 or 24, Kane has had some of his best goal-scoring performances in his late 20s and early 30s. If you look at his six-best goal scoring seasons on a per-game basis, they have all been after his 24th birthday, including his age 30, 31, and 32 seasons.
To go even further, since the start of his age 30 season Patrick Kane has scored 88 goals in 176 regular seasons. That is a .50 goals per game average, which is a 41-goal pace over 82 games. That is by far the best three-year run of his career. If you break his career down to three-year segments, his best years from a goal scoring perspective have again come after most players hit their peak.
His current pace this season is helping to drive an unexpected resurgence for the Blackhawks. If he can continue it in future seasons, or even something similar to that pace, it is going to push him well over the 500-goal mark and near the top of the American all-time leaderboard.
NBC Sports celebrates Hockey Day in America, presented by Discover®this Sunday with an NHL quadrupleheader on NBC and NBCSN, as well as a collection of stories and features which explore hockey’s impact and influence across the U.S. The day is a highlight of NBC Sports’ NHL coverage in March, which includes 30 games over 30 nights.
Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.