TORONTO — Patrick Kane can link his extraordinary scoring binge to a few tweaks he has made to his game. He’s trying to shoot more from the middle of the ice rather than spread opponents wide and come in from the perimeter. He has tinkered with his shot. And he has started keeping defenders honest by teeing up one-timers by Artemi Panarin from all over the ice, not just the left circle.
But more than anything? Kane just got hot.
“Hockey is kind of a funny sport like that,” the Blackhawks winger said. “You see a lot of guys go through stretches where they’re not scoring. Then they get really hot. And once you get hot, you just have that good feeling, and confidence is a huge part of this game.”
The fickle nature of scoring has seemed more pronounced than ever this season. Kane has 16 goals in his last 18 games after potting just 15 in his first 52 games. The Boston Bruins’ Brad Marchand has a staggering 27 goals in his last 31 games after scoring 10 in his first 40. Hawks center Jonathan Toews had seven goals in a nine-game stretch in February but weathered goal droughts of eight games and 13 games earlier in the season. Winger Richard Panik had six goals in his first six games, then none in his next 17, then had six in six games again in February. And defenseman Brent Seabrook, after scoring a career-high 14 goals last season, has just three this year.
And, well, nobody can quite explain why it happens like that.
“If I knew why, I think I would score more often,” Panik said. “But I don’t know. When you’re hot, everything goes in. You don’t even have to have ‘A’ chances, and you’re still going to score. Other times, nothing goes in, no matter how good a chance it is. You’re in the slot, wide open, and you don’t even hit the net.”
Kane’s resurgence has put him right back in the mix for the scoring title and the Hart Trophy, both of which he won last year. Marchand and the Edmonton Oilers’ Connor McDavid have 79 points, two more than Kane. At the end of January, Kane was 66th in the NHL in goals. He’s now eighth, just six off Marchand’s lead.
“After the summer, it can take a little bit for you to get into that groove again,” Kane said. “I kind of went through that, where I didn’t really score much at the World Cup, then, coming into the season you put some pressure on yourself to come out and have a good start. And I didn’t do that. But eventually, you just settle in and play hockey. Then good things start to happen.”
When it comes to riding the highs and coping with the lows, experience is key. It offers perspective, and perspective offers patience. It’s why, even at the height of his early-season frustrations, Toews always believed the goals would come. And it’s why Panik, now in his fifth season, has been able to rein in his inconsistency better.
“You don’t want to think too much about scoring, because as soon as you start thinking about it, it’s not going to happen,” Panik said. “It gets in your head, and then you’re down. When things are not going my way, I’m just trying to simplify. Make a great play on defense, or just get the puck out of the zone, play the body more, and start from there. The confidence is going to build, and then you can try something more.”
Seabrook’s goal drought is statistically the unlikeliest, as his 2.7 shooting percentage is half his career average. He said he wasn’t shooting enough early in the season and has been trying to be more aggressive, particularly on the power play.
But he’s not sweating the numbers. The way he sees it, there’s no point.
“I’m not relied on to score a lot of goals, so I don’t really think about it much,” Seabrook said. “Goal scoring, it just sort of is what it is. Sometimes they go in. Sometimes they don’t.”
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