Blackhawks’ Dominik Kubalik finally feels like ‘old self’ as he dials up shooting

After surviving the trade deadline and a message-sending healthy scratch Thursday, Kubalik was firing away Saturday against the Golden Knights.

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Dominik Kubalik has endured a difficult season but was surprisingly not traded by the Blackhawks.

AP Photo/Paul Sancya

Dominik Kubalik’s best skill, by far, is his shot.

But in the dog days of an extremely frustrating individual season — his shaky confidence compiled by swirling, and very real, trade rumors — Kubalik had gotten away from making it the focal point of his game, as it should be.

Perhaps Thursday night, when Kubalik was made a healthy scratch for the first time since his rookie season when the Blackhawks faced the Kings, reminded him of the fact.

On Saturday, the Czech sniper came out firing and terrorized Golden Knights goalie Logan Thompson with a steady barrage of heavy shots all afternoon.

After averaging just 2.2 even-strength shot attempts per game after the All-Star break before Thursday, he took eight shots during even-strength play Saturday to match his season high. Five were on goal. One — a first-period one-timer from the point — deflected off a Knights defenseman, past Thompson and into the net for Kubalik’s second goal since Jan. 28.

“[As] a player, you don’t want to be in that situation [as a scratch],” he said. “You want to be out there, you want to play — even though I know I have to be better, that’s for sure. There’s nothing else to say. Today, finally, I felt like my old self when I was getting chances. I was in the right areas, and I just need to keep building on that.”

Others noticed, too.

“That’s one of the best games he’s had for opportunities to shoot the puck,” interim coach Derek King said.

“We’ve all seen how well he can score goals, so hopefully he can ride this little hot streak and keep going,” Dylan Strome added. “He had tons of chances tonight.”

Getting through the trade deadline Monday likely helped Kubalik start rediscovering himself, too. He admitted he was “nervous with what was going to happen,” and he wasn’t able to escape the subject because his wife’s parents — visiting from the Czech Republic — kept asking about it.

Instead of lacing up for the Ducks, Oilers, Jets or another team come Tuesday, however, Kubalik was still donning a red-and-white Hawks sweater, the only jersey he has worn in his NHL career to date. General manager Kyle Davidson, albeit not for a lack of trying, ultimately didn’t sell (very) low on him.

As a pending restricted free agent requiring — similarly to Strome — a sizable $4 million qualifying offer, Kubalik’s future remains up in the air. He has roughly a month to salvage a portion of his disappointing season, though, and more outings like Saturday would indeed accomplish that.

“The pucks were coming, too, which is huge for me,” he said. “Sometimes you’re sitting in the slot and you’re not open — there’s somebody [covering you] — or the other guy makes a different play. Today, I felt that I was in the right moment, in the right spot. I know that’s one of my strengths and I need to do it more often.”

It could’ve been an even better, more memorable day for Kubalik had he buried a golden overtime chance off a pass from Strome. He instead tried to deke Thompson and the puck skittered barely wide. Kubalik said he was “overthinking again” at that moment, referencing King’s explanation Thursday of what had been going wrong in Kubalik’s game.

Consider that another learning moment favoring takeaway No. 1.

“I should just get it and shoot it, but I was trying to make a move, which is not my game, so then I kind of lost it,” he said. “I’ve got to stick with what I’m doing best, and that’s shooting.”

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