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Alex DeBrincat remains upbeat through struggles

DeBrincat hasn’t scored an even-strength goal since December and had a terrible game Sunday in Winnipeg. Plus, Nick Seeler makes a surprisingly eventful Hawks debut.

Alex DeBrincat has endured a lot of goal-scoring regression this season.
Alex DeBrincat has endured a lot of goal-scoring regression this season.
Jim Mone/AP

WINNIPEG, Manitoba — For two years, seemingly every break went Alex DeBrincat’s way.

He scored 28 goals as a Blackhawks rookie in 2017-18, scoring on 15.5 percent of his shots on goal. He erupted for 41 last year, tying for sixth in the NHL and scoring on a whopping 18.6 percent of his shots on goal.

And now he’s experiencing the other end of the spectrum.

DeBrincat has just 13 goals through 55 games this season. He’s scoring on just 8.3 percent of his shots on goal, as the regression that was bound to arrive at some point has overtaken his game with brutal harshness.

Most incredibly, he hasn’t scored an even-strength goal since Dec. 27 — his four goals since then have all been on the power play.

This nightmare season has helped DeBrincat realize his first two were more of a honeymoon than a reality.

“Last year, I had a lot of bad goals,” he admitted Saturday. “A lot just snuck in and it was lucky bounces, and this year those bounces just aren’t going in. I don’t think I’d be on the same pace as last year if I’d buried all my chances, but it’s a bounce here and there that can get you hot.”

DeBrincat has now gone 63 consecutive shot attempts, 34 straight shots on goal and 32 straight scoring chances during five-on-five play without finding the back of the net. He has produced an abundance of opportunities some nights — like in Arizona last week, when he had eight shots on goal (five at even strength) and a handful of glorious chances — yet he has been robbed by the goalie every time.

He’s also had some truly bad games, including Sunday in Winnipeg, when he seemed to turn the puck over with every touch. He squandered a potential three-on-one rush with an errant pass to Patrick Kane, then created a Jets short-handed goal with a whiff on the power play shortly after — and those were just the highlights of his gaffes.

But his attitude about his struggles at least remains seemingly upbeat.

“Coming into the year, you throw last year out of the way,” he said. “Obviously you want to do better than last year, but it’s a fresh start, new everything, so you don’t really think about it too much.

“Didn’t start off as good as I wanted to this year, but I feel good now, and hopefully they can start rolling in.”

Seeler debuts

Adam Boqvist — despite being a full participant in practice Saturday and the morning skate Sunday — was held out of the lineup to rest his ailing right shoulder for two additional days.

That allowed Nick Seeler to slot into the lineup for the first time since he was claimed off waivers from the Wild a week ago.

Seeler was paired alongside Connor Murphy because he’s more comfortable on the left side and the Hawks “want to put him in a situation to succeed,” coach Jeremy Colliton said.

It was an eventful debut for Seeler, too. He picked up an assist on Brandon Saad’s goal in the first period, then turned to the “grittiness and toughness” he promised last week that he would bring, exchanging haymakers with Nathan Beaulieu and finishing with seven penalty minutes.