The Chicago Blackhawks are a long way from the top of their game.
They started to have notable struggles in the win-loss results in the weeks prior to the Olympics. It has not gotten much better since then. The defending Stanley Cup champion are 6-6-1 in their last 13 games, and 13-9-8 since the start of the 2014 portion of the schedule.
The news got worse last week when Patrick Kane suffered an apparent knee injury in the team's 4-0 victory over the St. Louis Blues. Kane has been placed on the long-term injured reserve list, and he is not expected to play again until the start of the playoffs.
Kane is perhaps the team's second-best player, behind Jonathan Toews, and easily their most exciting offensive force. He had gotten off to a brilliant start in the first half of the season when he was competing with Sidney Crosby for the league lead in scoring, and while he had slowed down a bit, Kane was still having an exceptional year.
Kane scored 29 goals and 40 assists in 69 games before his injury sent him to the trainer's room. Kane contributed in all situations, as he had been averaging 20:37 of ice time per game. In addition to his offensive prowess, Kane was paying more attention to his defensive responsibilities and was a much-improved back checker.
However, there's little doubt that his offensive prowess has been his greatest strength, and he has been particularly dangerous when the Blackhawks went on the power play. Kane had registered 10 of his goals and 15 of his assists when Chicago was playing with the man advantage. That meant that he had contributed directly on 25 of the Blackhawks' 47 power-play goals.
Kane's presence on the power play was paying big dividends for the Blackhawks. They rank sixth in the NHL in power-play success this year, with a mark of 20.4 percent.
While the Blackhawks have played just two games without Kane, his absence from the power-play unit has already been noticeable. They are 0-for-9 without him on the man advantage, but it's not just the numbers that stand out.
The power-play unit has lacked cohesiveness in the last two games against Carolina and Nashville, as the team has not only failed to put enough shots on goal, they have had a hard time getting the puck into the offensive zone and setting up their man-advantage play.
"The last couple of games … we've sometimes had trouble entering the zone and other times it's been a little bit tougher setting it up," defenseman Duncan Keith told Chris Kuc of the Chicago Tribune. "Obviously we're missing Kaner a little bit, but it shouldn't be that big of a deal. It's only a couple of games. We'll just keep working at it."
With Kane out, the Blackhawks have moved Marian Hossa up to the first power-play unit to take Kane's place. That means Joel Quenneville has Hossa, Toews, Patrick Sharp, Keith and Andrew Shaw on the power play on a regular basis.
On the surface, that's a unit that has plenty of skill and firepower. A drop-off in production would not necessarily have to follow.
However, Kane brings qualities to the power play that nobody else has. His skill as a stick handler comes into play when he has the puck along the half-wall and is looking for a shot or an open teammate.
His quickness and agility as a skater allows him to enter the zone with the puck in his possession. Few others in the NHL can come close to Kane at this maneuver. It allows the Blackhawks to maintain possession in the offensive zone without having to dump the puck in and then retrieve it.
With Kane out of action, the Blackhawks have activated 19-year-old Finnish phenom Teuvo Teravainen, who has dazzled with his skill set in overseas competition.
Teravainen is expected to play his first game with the Blackhawks Tuesday night against the Dallas Stars.
While Quenneville does not want to put pressure on a player who may not be ready for the spotlight, he is certainly going to get a chance to skate and compete.
If he handles himself well and does not appear overwhelmed, Teravainen may also get a chance to demonstrate his skill on the power play.
Blackhawks fans have heard about Teravainen since the team drafted him in the first round in 2012. Don't expect them to be patient, especially with Kane on the sidelines.
They want to see the Blackhawks power play return to form, and if Teravainen can help that unit find their balance, so much the better.
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