Duncan Keith on goal drought: ‘Eventually, they’ll come’

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Duncan Keith hasn’t scored a goal since March 16. (AP Photo)

In the first game of his NHL career, a 20-year-old Connor Murphy stepped into a lengthy wrist shot and saw it sail through a screen and into the back of the net, triggering a joyous celebration with his teammates.

“I was lucky,” Murphy said. “But I was pumped.”

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Most defensemen aren’t Bobby Orr. They aren’t going to score 46 goals in a season, and they’re frankly not supposed to. Their job is to prevent goals at one end and facilitate them at the other. After all, that 82-goal pace didn’t quite hold up for Murphy, who has scored only 13 goals in the 282 games since his debut.

But blue-liners still want to — and need to — chip in from time to time. So, yes, Duncan Keith is getting frustrated that he hasn’t scored all season. In fact, it has been 42 games since he last put the puck in the net, dating to March. And like so many teammates during this trying season, Keith admits to feeling “a little bit” snakebitten.

“I’ve been shooting the puck, and there have been [times] where I could get chances to shoot, but it didn’t work out,” Keith said. “Just keep on going, keep playing the game, and eventually they’ll come.”

Much of the time, when a defenseman scores, it’s not exactly by design. In fact, two of Keith’s go-to moves involve intentionally not scoring. He frequently aims wide of the net, looking for a lucky bounce off the end boards to one of his forwards in front of the net. He also is the master of the slap-pass, in which he winds up for a big shot and fixes his eyes on the goaltender, only to send a crafty pass to a well-positioned forward in the low slot.

Murphy has only one goal this season, but he made one happen Saturday night in Dallas. He had a clear shot from the point but held the puck a split second longer than usual because he saw Brandon Saad coming across toward the crease. Murphy timed his shot with Saad’s arrival in the goalmouth, and Saad deftly deflected the shot for a goal.

That’s how defensemen think. They’re not usually looking to get a goal; they’re looking to get someone else a goal. So Keith’s drought probably doesn’t weigh on him the way a 19-game drought weighs on Richard Panik.

“If you ask a guy like [Montreal’s] Shea Weber, who gets a ton of goals on his one-timers and with his heavy shot, not scoring would probably eat him up more than it would for me,” Cody Franson said. “For me, I really value my assists. That’s my mindset. If it goes in, great. It’s always nice to not go those long stretches without having one go in. But if I’m getting assists off the pucks I’m putting toward the net, then I consider myself doing a good job.”

Franson scored in Dallas, leaving Keith as the only Hawks regular without a goal. Keith has 14 assists and is fourth on the team in shots on goal, so it’s not as if he has been invisible offensively. But Keith set a career high of 14 goals in 2009-10 and has seen his totals drop from 10 in 2014-15 to nine in 2015-16 to six last season and now, zero.

Considering Keith’s prominent role on the power play, he and the Hawks could really use a goal or two from the two-time Norris Trophy winner. A goal here or there could’ve made a significant difference during this five-game losing streak.

“It’s a hard thing because, mentally, you know as a D-man that you’re affecting the game in so many other ways,” Murphy said. “But it’s a natural thing that everyone wants to score. And it’s just a fun thing — you’re in the NHL and want to be able to score a goal and celebrate with your teammates. Sometimes, it just doesn’t happen for you.”

NOTE: The Hawks put Tanner Kero on waivers Thursday, potentially clearing the way for Vinnie Hinostroza to be called up from Rockford.

Follow me on Twitter @MarkLazerus.

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com

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