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Alex DeBrincat’s playmaking evolution takes another step in Blackhawks’ shootout loss

DeBrincat had his eighth assist in the Hawks’ last seven games — despite not scoring in that span — in a 2-1 defeat against the Stars.

Previously a shoot-first sniper, DeBrincat has become more of an assist guy while he waits for his goals to come.
AP Photos

DALLAS — Blackhawks wing Alex DeBrincat passed to defenseman Olli Maatta, corralled a return pass and bore down on Stars goalie Anton Khudobin on a promising two-on-one rush in the first period.

The old DeBrincat would have shot — every time. The new DeBrincat passed again.

The pass was right on the money, and Maatta put the puck through Khudobin’s five-hole in what proved to be the Hawks’ lone goal in a hard-fought 2-1 shootout loss Saturday.

‘‘That [defender] cheated over toward me a little bit, so [Maatta] was wide-open over there,’’ DeBrincat said. ‘‘If he was staying in the middle, maybe it was a little different play. But he was inching toward me, so I gave it over there. Luckily, it went in the net.’’

The overall performance was one of the Hawks’ best of the season, especially defensively. The offensive showing would have looked better, too, if not for two potential goals upheld as non-goals on review.

The Hawks’ Robin Lehner and Khudobin put together a brilliant goaltending duel, combining for 78 saves on 80 shots before Lehner was beaten in the shootout by Joe Pavelski and Tyler Seguin.

‘‘It was a really good game, back and forth,’’ Lehner said. ‘‘There’s a few things we’ve got to clean up, [and] they got lucky on a couple of plays.’’

Lehner stopped 40 of 41 shots in Dallas, but struggled in the shootout as the Blackhawks suffered a 2-1 defeat.
AP Photos

The division foes will play again Tuesday at the United Center, so the Hawks quickly will have an opportunity for revenge. And DeBrincat will have another chance to end his eight-game drought without a goal.

DeBrincat has scored only five goals in 23 games this season, a paltry 18-goal pace that pales in comparison to his 41-goal eruption last season. Even worse, he has scored only twice during five-on-five play.

‘‘It’s a little bit frustrating,’’ he said. ‘‘But at the same time, there’s other things you can do to help your team win. Focus on those, keep working hard and you’re going to get a chance you’re not going to be able to miss.’’

While waiting for the goals to come, DeBrincat has turned to playmaking. His pass to Maatta was his eighth assist in the Hawks’ last seven games. His 13 assists this season trail only Patrick Kane (18) for the team lead, and he’s on pace for 46 this season. That would be a big step up from his 35 of last season.

‘‘[Playmaking is] something I needed to work on, to see the ice as well as I can shoot,’’ DeBrincat said. ‘‘I’d rather be doing both at the same time rather than one or the other. But it’s good I can help the team when I’m not scoring.’’

DeBrincat’s shot generation has declined significantly in recent weeks, probably reflecting the drought getting in his head. (He admitted that has been the case.)

Still, there’s no doubt he also has been the victim of opposing goalies, who have a .917 save percentage on his shots this season, compared with an ugly .828 in his first two seasons. DeBrincat won’t keep scoring this infrequently in the long run.

‘‘He’s getting chances,’’ Hawks coach Jeremy Colliton said. ‘‘We know he can finish, and when he does get one, he’s likely going to get a bunch more. Just keep working away from the puck and putting himself in good situations. Hit the net.’’

In the meantime, he’s picking up more assists, which have become so much more familiar of late.