Aw, shoot! Goal-starved Blackhawks need to be more trigger happy

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Artemi Panarin unleashes a slap shot during the first period Saturday’s game in Los Angeles. (AP Photo)

Nick Schmaltz is a rookie with one goal in 24 career games. Patrick Kane is the reigning MVP with 259 career goals. So it wasn’t exactly shocking that Schmaltz, on a 2-on-1 with Kane in the dying minutes of the third period of a tie game Tuesday night, tried to force a pass to Kane rather than simply shoot the puck himself. In theory, it seems like the right decision.

It wasn’t.

“We should never be passing up shots,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said after his team escaped with a 2-1 shootout victory. “Sometimes we look for something even better than a glorious chance.”

Quenneville always says he never worries about offense, not with so many high-end skill players on his team. His concern is always on the defensive side of things, and he’s almost always willing to overlook the occasional goal drought. But the Hawks are currently mired in one of their worst scoring slumps in recent memory. In four of their last five games, they’ve scored either one goal or no goals. In their last 11 games, they have just 20 goals. Losing Jonathan Toews for the past three games hasn’t helped, but it’s hardly the sole problem.

Artemi Panarin has the solution.

“Shoot more,” he said, through an interpreter.

A few hot goaltenders have had something to do with the power outage, the most notable being San Jose’s Martin Jones, who stopped 33 of 34 shots in what was one of the Hawks’ better efforts of the season. A dreadful power play, which allowed as many shorthanded goals (five) as it scored in November is an even bigger reason. But even that comes down to shooting more. The Hawks had just 55 shots on goal on 43 power plays in November.

Instead of simply having Brent Seabrook or Duncan Keith fire away from the point and let the Hawks forwards look for tips, redirects and rebounds, the Hawks — as they have for years — are always looking for an extra pass, a backdoor look, a highlight-reel goal. Panarin is deadly on one-timers from the left faceoff dot, but the Hawks often try to force-feed him the puck rather than make a simpler play on net.

“We need to shoot more,” Panarin said. “We get there, pass to each other a lot, and then they get the puck out. Then we have to run back, run back into attack, and then we’re tired. We just don’t shoot enough.”

It’s not just on the power play, either. The Hawks are 25th in the league in shots on goal per game at 28.8, down from 30.5 last year. Their shot attempts are down more than two per game, also. And too often when they do shoot, it’s from the perimeter, rather than the high-danger area in the slot. A 9.6 shooting percentage — sixth-highest in the league — has helped mask the drop in shots. But that’s an awfully tough rate to maintain.

“We got chances, the puck just is not going in,” said Richard Panik, who ended a 17-game goal drought with a breakaway tally against Florida. “I think everybody in the room knows we can score goals, so we want to focus on the D-zone first. The goals aren’t going in, but if you try, it’s going to come.”

The Hawks’ biggest guns are misfiring a bit more often, too. Patrick Kane is still a point-per-game player, but his goals per 60 minutes has dropped from a remarkable 1.65 last year to a more human 0.90 this year. Toews has dropped from 1.09 to 0.56. Panarin has dropped from 1.21 to 1.02. Marian Hossa’s and Artem Anisimov’s goal rates are way up, helping to counter that, but the Hawks usually go as far as Kane, Toews and Panarin can take them.

“I would like to hope there’s going to be a change soon,” Panarin said. “All we have to do is work hard, put 100 percent into it, and get it into the goal.”


Twitter: @marklazerus

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