500 goals looms, but snakebit Marian Hossa happy just to get one

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EDMONTON, Alberta — Marian Hossa swooped down the right side of the ice and cocked his stick back, opening his body toward the net. Jonathan Toews’ pass was on the money, smoothly gliding on the glassy Rexall Place ice right into Hossa’s wheelhouse.

He whiffed. Then he laughed. It was only a morning skate, after all. And besides, the world’s generally a lighter place when you’re no longer mired in an inexplicable scoring drought.

“It definitely feels better when you score,” Hossa said with a big grin.

The first six weeks of Hossa’s season have defied logic. He’s been his usual superb self — all over the net, creating scoring chances, and generally wreaking havoc all without losing a step in his signature defensive game. He’s second among Blackhawks in shots on goal. Only Patrick Kane has had more prime scoring chances. Ask his coach, ask his teammates, heck, ask Hossa himself, and they’ll all tell you he’s been playing very well all season.

The darn puck just wouldn’t go in.

Through his first 14 games, Hossa had 42 shots on goal. Only one found the back of the net. One-timers, breakaways, goalmouth chips — they all got stopped, or hit someone’s stick, or just went wide. His shooting percentage in those 14 games was a baffling 2.3 percent — 10 percentage points below his career average.

“I was obviously getting great opportunities, but not putting my name on the board,” Hossa said. “I felt good, though. When that’s happening, you just have to keep working hard. When you get good chances like that, good things will happen.”

Well, eventually. Hossa finally broke through in Sunday’s home game against the Calgary Flames — nearly doubling his shooting percentage in the process — and the weight of the world was lifted off his shoulders heading into Wednesday’s game in Edmonton, which he won 4-3 on an overtime breakaway. For a younger player, a bewildering stretch like that might be even more frustrating than just a lousy run of games. But you don’t score 489 goals in the NHL without having a little patience, and a little trust in your own game.

In fact, Hossa went through the same thing at the start of last season. He had three goals in his first 26 games before finishing with 22 on the season. He knew the law of averages would catch up to him eventually. It had to.

“Over your career, everybody goes through these stretches,” he said. “You have to stay positive and not let it get to you.”

Toews, who’s been through his own scoring droughts over the years and frequently talks about the big confidence boost even the most seasoned pro can get from just one goal, expects Hossa’s long-awaited second tally of the season to open the floodgates.

“It’s funny — you can do everything right, you can prepare as much as you want, and go out there and work your tail off, and sometimes you just need a lucky bounce here and there and that changes everything,” Toews said. “I think as a line we’ve been doing some good things, but not quite getting those bounces, and maybe those lucky goals you’re looking for. Once you do, it gives you a good boost of energy and you put less pressure on yourself every time you get the puck.”

The timing couldn’t be better. The Hawks have been limping along all season as a one-line team, carried by Artemi Panarin, Artem Anisimov and Kane. When the Hawks are at their best, all four lines are chipping in. But at this point, they’d be thrilled with just two.

“We definitely need that line to score,” Joel Quenneville said. “We need the other two lines to start scoring, as well. It was a drought that I hadn’t seen, maybe ever since I’ve been here.”

Hossa played in his 1,000th game two season ago, and tallied his 1,000th point last year. This year, the milestone within reach is 500 goals. He’s just 11 shy of 500, so it seems inevitable that the eight-time 30-goal scorer will reach it this season. But given how the first 16 games have gone, Hossa just laughed when asked if he’s been thinking about it.

“Believe it or not, not really,” he said. “I’ve had a tough time scoring just one. I definitely want to get there, trust me. But I’m not like, ‘Oh, I have to do it right now.’ I know the chances will come, and I know the goals will come.”

Sometimes it just takes a little longer.

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com

Twitter: @marklazerus

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