Kane’s goal Thursday was just his eighth of the season and his first since Dec. 4. He’s scoring on only 3.6% of his shot attempts this season, barely half of his career average.
One could practically watch the gears in Patrick Kane’s head turn as he held the puck Thursday along the half-wall.
The Blackhawks winger considered a cross-ice pass to Alex DeBrincat. Then he considered sending it down to Jonathan Toews in the crease. Then he considered finding Brandon Hagel, who’d crept into the high slot. Then he considered Toews again. Then he decided to simply shoot it.
The abrupt shot was the right decision, fooling Canadiens goalie Sam Montembeault — who was cheating towards a Toews tip attempt — and giving Kane his first goal since Dec. 4 and eighth of the season.
It thus ended a streak of 88 consecutive shot attempts (over 13 games) that hadn’t gone in the net, an uncharacteristic drought that had weighed on him.
“[This has] been probably one of the more frustrating years for me personally, so far,” Kane said Wednesday. “There have been numerous times where I could’ve cashed in and scored goals, and I’ve had chances to do so. It’s frustrating when you feel [like] that’s a strong part of your game and it’s not a part that’s working for you.”
Even after scoring Thursday, he’s still only on pace for only 20 goals this season (prorated over 82 games), which would be the lowest of his career. And that follows last season’s pace of 22, his lowest since his 21-goal rookie year.
Kane’s steady stream of assists — he has 25 in 33 games — have kept him at a full point-per-game pace at least, but he’s not programmed to accept silver linings.
“You’re always trying to make the right play as an offensive guy, then let the goals and assists work themselves out after that,” he added. “But you always want to contribute. … If I can not worry about it but start doing it more often — more like I’m accustomed to — it’s going to help this team.”
So why have goals been so hard to come by for Kane?
One plausible reason is his mysterious nagging injury, which also seemingly hampered him late last season. On many occasions lately, United Center crowds have cheered while watching Kane enter open ice with possession, expecting some wizardry, only to see defensemen quickly catch up or close him off, squashing any possible scoring opportunity.
Kane insisted again Wednesday his injury isn’t inhibiting him, arguing “everyone’s dealing with something at this point.” And he attributed those aforementioned examples to “different situations,” such as “when you don’t have all your momentum going forward” upon receiving the puck.
But although Kane might be understandably reluctant to make the injury an excuse publicly, it may well be a behind-the-scenes factor.
Even if it’s not, though, there’s also the inevitable influence of age. He’s 33 now, several years beyond his prime. He has held up fairly well so far, but every player — especially players with over 1,200 career regular- and post-season appearances — slows down eventually.
Lastly, bad luck likely deserves some of the blame, too, even if it’s an unsatisfying culprit. Kane has hit posts or crossbars eight times this year, trailing only Boston’s David Pastrnak (and tied with Minnesota’s Kevin Fiala) for second-most in the NHL. And when his shots have been on-goal, opposing goaltenders have a .933 save percentage against them.
Add it all up, and Kane has scored on just 3.6% of his shot attempts, barely half of his career average of 6.8%. That percentage is bound to regress toward the mean over time.
And while hearing that would hardly relieve Kane, interim coach Derek King — who can afford to take a slightly bigger-picture view — seems to realize it’s accurate.
“He has been even-keel,” King said. “He has had opportunities, and eventually it’ll go in. But that being said, he’s still making things happen when he has the puck, so that’s all we have to worry about.”