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Blackhawks’ Duncan Keith on verge of setting NHL record for shooting futility

This whole idea that if the Blackhawks can close out the season with a few morale-boosting victories, they can carry that momentum into their offseason and even into the start of next season?

Duncan Keith isn’t buying it.

“No, I don’t believe that at all,” he said. “That’s crazy.”

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Duncan Keith came unglued Saturday in Nashville. (AP Photo)

Of course, who can blame Keith for wanting to put the 2017-18 season behind him as quickly as possible? Not only is this his first losing season since 2006-07, he’s on the verge of setting an NHL record for futility. In 79 games this season, Keith has put 183 shots on goal, while putting just one shot in the goal. If he doesn’t score in the last three games of the season, he’ll break the NHL record for lowest non-zero shooting percentage. He’s currently at a mind-boggling 0.5 percent.

Since the league began tracking shots on goal in 1959, the worst non-zero shooting percentage belongs to Buffalo’s Alexei Zhitnik, who in 2001-02 had one goal in 150 shots, for a 0.7.

In all, Keith has attempted a shot 369 times. Even for a defenseman, for just one of those attempts to go in is a mathematical absurdity. But for Keith, who has scored at least 10 goals three times in his Hall of Fame career, it’s just another kick in the teeth in a season full of them.

Few players feel the weight of losses as heavily as Keith has throughout his career — he stews on them, chews on them — and the Hawks’ relentless mediocrity has been hard to handle. Keith will be 35 by the time the next season begins, and he knows all too well that every lost season is a lost opportunity.

“It’s been frustrating,” he said. “It’s been a difficult year. Just a lot of different things that have happened. It’s a learning experience, I guess. I don’t know what to say. You get older, and as you get older, you just want to win.”

Keith is still far and away the Hawks’ best defenseman, but he hasn’t played up to his usual standards. The analytics suggest Keith — like Brandon Saad, like Jonathan Toews — has at least partially been the victim of bad luck this season, which would explain his ludicrous shooting percentage.

But the burden of being the only real top-four defenseman in the lineup has affected his game and his shooting. The Hawks are a bottom-third team in terms of shots and goals allowed, and it has caused some uncharacteristic caution to creep into Keith’s game. He wouldn’t say he feels pressure to cover for the rotating cast of characters on his right side, but it has been evident in his play.

“It’s about shot selection, where you’re shooting from,” he said. “Maybe in years past, I was joining the rush a little bit more, getting more involved. But you have to feel comfortable doing that. And for whatever reason, I haven’t felt comfortable like I have in the past doing that and getting up in the play.”

Coach Joel Quenneville wants to see Keith find that aggression again, saying, “When our defense is part of our attack, we’re a better team because we have the puck more.”

But the more you get burned, the more conservative you become. Even if you’re a two-time Norris Trophy winner. 

“When I’m on the ice for a goal against, I take it hard. I take it personally,” Keith said. “I don’t want to be on the ice for goals against. And it just has a snowball effect, where it’s like the harder you try, the more it works against you. Sometimes, the easiest thing to do is just keep it simple. But nothing works.”

“Nothing works” could be the slogan for the 2017-18 Hawks. One that Keith just wants to put in the past.

“As a team, it’s going to start back at square one next year,” he said. “We’ll take this offseason to get better in the gym and come out flying in training camp. That’s all we can do.”