One practically could watch the gears in Patrick Kane’s head turn as he held the puck Thursday along the half-wall.
The Blackhawks winger considered a cross-ice pass to Alex DeBrincat. Then he considered sending it down to Jonathan Toews in the crease. Then he considered finding Brandon Hagel, who’d crept into the high slot. Then he considered Toews again. Then he decided to shoot it.
The shot was the right decision. It fooled Canadiens goalie Sam Montembeault — who was cheating toward a Toews tip attempt — and gave Kane his first goal since Dec. 4 and eighth of the season.
It ended a streak of 88 consecutive shots (spanning 13 games) that hadn’t gone in the net, an uncharacteristic drought that had weighed on him.
“[This has] been probably one of the more frustrating years for me personally, so far,” Kane said Wednesday. “There have been numerous times where I could’ve cashed in and scored goals, and I’ve had chances to do so. It’s frustrating when you feel [like] that’s a strong part of your game and it’s not a part that’s working for you.”
Even after scoring Thursday, he’s still averaging only 0.24 goals per game this season, the lowest rate of this career. This comes on the heels of his 0.26 average last season, which was his worst since his rookie season. By comparison, in 2015-16 — his most prolific season — he averaged 0.56 goals per game.
Kane’s steady stream of assists — he has 25 in 33 games — has kept him at a full point-per-game pace at least, but he’s not programmed to accept silver linings.
“You’re always trying to make the right play as an offensive guy, then let the goals and assists work themselves out after that,” he said. “But you always want to contribute. ... If I can not worry about it but start doing it more often — more like I’m accustomed to — it’s going to help this team.”
So why have goals been so hard to come by for Kane?
One plausible reason is his mysterious nagging injury, which also seemingly hampered him late last season. On many occasions lately, United Center crowds have cheered while watching Kane enter open ice with possession, expecting some wizardry, only to see defensemen quickly catch up or close him off, squashing any scoring opportunity.
Kane insisted again his injury isn’t hindering him, arguing “everyone’s dealing with something at this point.” And he attributed the aforementioned example to “different situations,” such as “when you don’t have all your momentum going forward” upon receiving the puck.
But although Kane might be reluctant to make the injury an excuse publicly, it could well be a factor behind the scenes.
Even if it’s not, though, there’s also the inevitable influence of age. He’s 33, several years beyond his prime. He has held up fairly well, but every player — especially players with over 1,200 career regular-season and postseason games — slows down eventually.
Lastly, bad luck deserves some of the blame, too. Kane has hit posts or crossbars eight times this year, tied with the Wild’s Kevin Fiala for second-most in the NHL (the Bruins’ David Pastrnak is first). And when his shots have been on goal, goalies have a .933 save percentage against them.
Add it all up, and Kane has scored on just 3.6% of his shots, barely half of his career average of 6.8%. That percentage is bound to regress toward the mean.
And while hearing that hardly would -relieve Kane, interim coach Derek King — who can afford to take a slightly bigger-picture view — seems to realize it’s accurate.
“He has been even-keel,” King said. “He has had opportunities, and eventually it’ll go in. But that being said, he’s still making things happen when he has the puck. So that’s all we have to worry about.”