WINNIPEG, Manitoba — Alex DeBrincat has learned plenty of lessons in his first NHL season — how to avoid getting crunched along the boards like he was seemingly every game early on, how to navigate NHL defenses, how to be a dependable two-way player in the NHL.
But the one he said with a shrug Thursday morning might be the most important lesson yet.
“You can’t score every game,” DeBrincat said.
That’s new for DeBrincat. Following Thursday’s 6-2 loss to the Winnipeg Jets, DeBrincat is now mired in a 12-game goal drought. That’s a long time for any scorer. It’s a lifetime for DeBrincat. In his three prolific seasons in the Ontario Hockey League, he never went more than four regular-season games without a goal, and even that only happened twice.
Before this stretch, DeBrincat had three goals in his last four games, and eight in his last 11. He has 22 on the season, fourth among NHL rookies.
“It’s a bit longer than I’m used to, but coming into this year, I kind of had a feeling it was going to happen sooner or later,” DeBrincat said. “I’m just trying to play the same way, maybe help out in different aspects of the game. And when a goal opportunity comes, I’m going to try to bear down and, hopefully, I put it in the net.”
Joel Quenneville has had no problems with DeBrincat’s play during the drought — a good and rare sign for a 20-year-old rookie. Quenneville likes the way DeBrincat has looked alongside Nick Schmaltz on the revamped second line; Schmaltz said he and DeBrincat “think the game similarly.” On Thursday, they skated with John Hayden instead of Vinnie Hinostroza.
“He’s been fine,” Quenneville said. “He still does a lot of good things away from the puck, and has the puck enough in those areas where he’s had some decent looks. The finish is not quite to where he’d like it, or the pace he’s been at all year long. … You can look at the numbers, but I still think game in, game out, he’s pretty effective.”
Confidence is always a factor in the NHL. Future Hall of Famers such as Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane (and Marian Hossa before them) have openly discussed their own confidence issues during scoring slumps, so it’s natural for a 20-year-old to have a similar struggle. But those same veterans have been in DeBrincat’s ear, telling him to keep doing what he’s been doing.
“Obviously, when you’re not putting it in the net, it’s a little bit harder,” DeBrincat said. “But what I’ve learned from those guys is they’re telling you to stay positive and if you stay positive, it’s going to come sooner or later. That’s what I’m trying to do.”
Said Schmaltz: “He’s a goal-scorer. Everyone goes through those droughts where the pucks aren’t bouncing for you. But once he gets one in, I think he’ll start rolling again. He can score in bunches.”
With Anthony Duclair out at least another week or two, the Hawks have the bare minimum of players — 12 forwards, six defensemen and two goalies. Had there been an injury during the morning skate, or if a player had gotten sick, there wouldn’t have been time to get a call-up to Winnipeg in time. The Hawks are still clinging to their one remaining regular call-up with a little more than three weeks left in the season.
“It’s where we’re at,” Quenneville said.
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