CHICAGO -- Joel Quenneville and Patrick Kane recently had a discussion about the revolving door at center on the Blackhawks' top scorer's line.
"He doesn't mind playing with everybody or anybody," Quenneville said.
Kane has taken the ice with a different center in three consecutive games -- from Michal Handzus to Marcus Kruger to Andrew Shaw -- as the audition process continues in the Hawks' apparently never-ending search for a No. 2 center to play alongside one of the most dynamic scorers in the NHL.
Throughout the turmoil, Kane has managed to remain dangerous offensively as he continued to rank second in the league in scoring entering Monday with 23 goals and 33 assists.
"That shows the type of player that he is, that he's got that ability to improvise, and it seems like he has the puck a lot," Quenneville said. "Whoever's playing with him realizes you're better off getting him the puck and going to certain areas because you're going to end up with it as well. Nice that he's able to do that, makes us a better team."
In a perfect world, the Hawks would have a center locked in on the second line to dish Kane the puck and finish when the winger finds a teammate with one of his highlight-reel passes. Instead, Kane never knows for sure who will center for him on a nightly basis.
He says he's fine with that.
"You know how everyone plays just from watching them or playing with them a little bit," Kane said. "It's almost like sometimes you have to switch up your game a little bit, which is cool, too, because you get to play a different style of hockey. I just try to get the puck, create plays, make sure you're working hard on both sides of the puck and worry about myself more than who I'm playing with."
His teammates believe it doesn't matter with whom Kane skates as the talent level is so high an almost instant chemistry can be attained.
"He's such a dynamic player that generally he makes the players around him much better," sometime-linemate Kris Versteeg said. "He doesn't need someone to make him better because he is so dynamic and he's so explosive with the puck and one-on-one he's very good. He distributes the puck to pretty much everyone on the line, so it gives the other guys more confidence and puts everyone in a better scoring position. That's why I don't think it really matters who's with him."
The Hawks' top line of Jonathan Toews centering for Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa has been a consistent trio this season, but with Quenneville's penchant for changing lines from game to game, period to period and often shift to shift, the second and third lines have been a jumble.
"It's always a challenge to go the whole season with the line you start out with -- it's just not going to happen," Kane said. "You've seen that every year. It's good to switch it up sometimes, play with new guys, get excited about who you're playing with. Sometimes it's good for the team, too, and sparks (it)."
The latest adjustment to the second line has Shaw in the middle, flanked by Kane and Brandon Saad. Shaw spent most of the season anchoring the third line with a recent demotion to the fourth, but Quenneville hopes the latest setup will help Kane snap out of a season-high, seven-game goal drought. After showing a spark during the Hawks' 5-3 victory over the Oilers on Sunday, Quenneville indicated the trio likely would play together against the Avalanche on Tuesday at the United Center.
Shaw was asked if he'd like to be the answer to the No. 2 center quandary and play with Kane on a consistent basis.
"Why wouldn't I?" Shaw asked. "He's a great player. I'd love to play with him."
Shaw quickly recited the formula for skating with Kane.
"Get him the puck (and) get open," Shaw said. "He knows what to do. He makes the right plays. As long as I work for him, he's going to work for me as well."
(c)2014 Chicago Tribune
Visit the Chicago Tribune at www.chicagotribune.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services