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Zawaski: Handzus Hampering Kane's Chase For MVP

By Jay Zawaski-

(CBS) Friday, the NHL announced Patrick Kane as it's 1st Star of the Month.  For those counting, that's two months in a row that Kane has taken home the figurative hardware.

He's been great, right?  Certainly a prime candidate for the Art Ross Trophy for league MVP.  Well, not if Michal Handzus has anything to say about it.

Take a look at this handy dandy stats page.  Kane, while playing with Michal Handzus, the center he's been paired with most often this season, has not recorded a single goal.

You read that correctly.

Not one goal with Handzus, his main centerman, centering his line.  He has tallied six assists, but it seems almost impossible that in 222:44 of even strength ice time together, the NHL's fourth leading goal scorer hasn't dented the net.

Kane has spent the second most even strength time with Rockford's Brandon Pirri.  In those 171:53, Kane has registered three goals and seven assists.  So four more points in 51 fewer minutes of ice time.

Even the casual observer can tell that Handzus and Kane don't work well together.  Handzus has the speed of a semi on an icy road, and slows Kane down when they're on the ice together. This was painfully obvious during the 2013 playoffs.  Whenever Kane and Handzus were paired together, the Hawks seemed to struggle.  In fact, Quenneville's "break glass in case of emergency" move of putting Kane with Jonathan Toews and Bryan Bickell was lauded as the move of the playoffs.  The trio began the season together, but Quenneville quickly tinkered and broke up the line.

So what's the answer?

The least disruptive change would be to give Marcus Kruger a look on the second line, and move Handzus to the fourth line. However, Quenneville has (rightfully) loved the chemistry on the fourth line with Kruger, Ben Smith and Brandon Bollig.  Also, Kane and Kruger haven't exactly been Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr when paired together in the past.  Last season, the duo spent 168:24 together. Kane had one assist, Kruger had zero points.  That's uh…not good.

There's another piece to this puzzle as well.  No one is talking about Jonathan Toews' goal-scoring slump. The captain has 3 goals in his last 20 games. Yes, the assists are coming (17 in those 20 games), but he's a guy that needs to be filling the net.

Here's my proposal:

When Pirri gets healthy (which should be near the end of this week) call him up, and put him on the second line with Marian Hossa and Brandon Saad. Put Kane on the top line with Toews and Patrick Sharp. This gets your two biggest guns going again (while not separating Toews and Sharp), and puts Pirri with two defensively responsible wingers. That's the reason Pirri isn't here, right? Defense? Problem solved. Handzus can sit on the bench, and occasionally fill in on the fourth line.

I know it seems like nitpicking. The Hawks are one of the best teams in hockey, but why not be even better? Leave no doubt.  Get Kane and Toews scoring with more frequency, and we'll be talking about a historically great team come June.

Thanks to the awesome guys at The Committed Indian and @RealFansProgram for the links and info

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