By Larry Lage
AP Hockey Writer
DETROIT — Patrick Kane made a short, sharp pass from the bottom of the right circle to below the left, perfectly setting up Artemi Panarin for a one-timer that hit the back of the net.
The Chicago Blackhawks super star later carried the puck up the ice and feathered a pass from above the right circle toward the middle of the left, paving the way for the Russian rookie to light the lamp again.
Kane to Panarin.
Panarin to Kane.
The defending Stanley Cup champions have been leaning on the duo all season, and they’re leading a loaded team that seems set up to make a run at its third title in four years and fourth in seven.
“They’ve got an amazing sense of where each other is, whether it’s a cross-ice pass or play recognition with patience to settle it all down,” Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said.
Kane has already surpassed his previous career high in points and has a double-digit lead as the NHL’s top scorer, putting him in position to at least finish among the top five in MVP voting for the first time in his nine-year career.
The 24-year-old Panarin, meanwhile, easily leads the league’s rookies in goals and assists.
“They have so much confidence and skill with the puck,” captain Jonathan Toews said. “When you have the puck all night and when you can have your head up with time and space, those guys are going to try plays and, more often than not, they’re going to finish them off.”
Finishing strong is what drives Kane.
Sure, he is happy to have already have beaten his previous career-high total of 30 goals with a month left in the regular season and knows he should surpass his career high of 58 assists. But he also realizes it’s way too early to plan another parade in the Windy City.
“Trying not to be satisfied with each other,” Kane said. “Trying to keep building off our chemistry, and see where this can go.”
Here’s a look at some of the NHL’s other dynamic duos this season:
JAMIE BENN and TYLER SEGUIN: The Dallas Stars’ duo has produced more than 140 points combined, best in the NHL. “They’ve really fed off each other in the transition game,” said Stars coach Lindy Ruff, who has been with the franchise for three seasons, just like Seguin since being acquired from Boston. “They look for each other. I think there’s a little bit of chemistry where they know, especially on the rush, where each other’s going to be.”
ALEX OVECHKIN and NICKLAS BACKSTROM: The NHL-leading Washington Capitals put Ovechkin and Backstrom together when Backstrom returned from hip surgery early in the season and have rolled with them on the same line. Backstrom took an 18-game goal drought into Wednesday night’s game at Los Angeles. Capitals coach Barry Trotz has insisted he’s not worried about that because Backstrom has Ovechkin to pass to and he leads the league in goals.
JOE THORNTON and JOE PAVELSKI: The San Jose Sharks are in a position to make the playoffs after missing out last year for the first time since 2003. Thornton and Pavelski, playing together for the 10th straight season, are a big reason why they’re likely headed back to the postseason.
HENRIK ZETTERBERG and PAVEL DATSYUK: Datsyuk set up Detroit teammate Zetterberg for a recent scoring chance by sending the puck wide of the net on purpose. It was the latest sign of their on-ice connection that has been developing since the 2002-03 season.
AP Sports Writers Stephen Whyno, Josh Dubow and freelance writer Lary Bump contributed to this report.