SUNRISE, Fla. — With the score tied in the third period Wednesday night in Tampa, Brandon Saad nudged the puck over to Richard Panik in the corner of the goalmouth, with nothing but an empty cage in front of him. It was a surefire go-ahead goal for Panik, until suddenly, Andrei Vasilevskiy’s left skate came out of nowhere to knock it away.
“It’s just the way it goes now, you know?” a dejected Panik said. “I have those chances, but I can’t get it in.”
He’s hardly alone. Panik hasn’t scored in 12 games. Patrick Sharp hasn’t scored in 15 games. Duncan Keith hasn’t scored all season. Brandon Saad has one goal in his last 15 games. Nick Schmaltz has one goal in his last 17. Ryan Hartman has one goal in his last 13. Jonathan Toews has two goals in his last 16 games, and one of them was an empty-netter. And until his two-goal first period Wednesday, even Patrick Kane had just one goal in 10 games.
And the frustration is mounting.
“It never gets easy,” said Sharp, who said his surgically repaired hip is 100 percent and is no excuse. “You think about it all the time. You feel that pressure in tight games, and in losses, definitely. You leave the rink thinking that you could have helped the team in some way. You can sleep a little easier when your team’s winning even though you’re not scoring. But it’s a struggle. There’s not much you can do other than try to get better every day and find a way to get out of these slumps.”
While the goal-less games are piling up, that burden has indeed been a little lighter lately. Somehow, the Blackhawks have gone 3-1-1 in their last five games (against a very tough schedule) despite all the lengthy droughts, with the offense being carried by Artem Anisimov and Alex DeBrincat. So while the obvious way to look at it is that the Hawks’ biggest offensive weapons aren’t doing their jobs, there’s a sunnier outlook, too — if and when those stars do start scoring, the team could really get rolling.
“You can’t just count on a few guys to put the puck in the net,” Sharp said. “Balanced scoring is key. But it’s nice to know that we can still gather up some points and win games when a number of guys aren’t scoring on a regular basis.”
The top line of Saad, Toews and Panik has been particularly frustrated. The trio has been all around the net the last couple of weeks, but simply can’t finish. They draw iron (the Hawks lead the league with 18 shots off the post or crossbar this season), they get blocked by defenders or they get robbed by goaltenders. With the second line of Schmaltz, Anisimov and Kane going strong lately, and with DeBrincat chipping in from the bottom-six, the Hawks could suddenly be awfully dangerous if the top line gets going.
The top line thinks it’s only a matter of time, that all three of them are on the verge of breaking through. Of course, they’ve been saying that for weeks
“We’re almost there, you know?” Panik said. “It’s just not going in. Obviously, it’s frustrating, especially after we lose. … But as soon as we get a couple, it’s going to go.”
Kane was feeling the frustration himself the past few weeks. While he’s been a point-a-game player throughout the season (he’s got 21 points in 21 games), he was only getting assists for a while. His two-goal first period in Tampa lifted a weight off his shoulders.
Many of his teammates hope they’re next.
“You measure yourself by production, so it’s never fun when you’re not scoring for a period of time,” Kane said. “But you know you’re going to have those stretches during the season. You just try to do the right things in practice, work on your game, and hopefully it comes around.”
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