While the Chicago Blackhawks have been off to a nice 3-1-1 start, it has been the individual performances of guys on the team that are drawing the lion’s share of the attention.
There is Patrick Kane, who has scored four goals in five games, and looks bound and determined to be a contender not only for the Art Ross this year as the league’s leading scorer, but also the Rocket Richard, given to the player with the most goals.
There are also the performances of defensemen Duncan Keith and Niklas Hjalmarsson, who are tied for the team lead in assists with four. Keith also has 19 shots on goal to lead the team, and has been doing an excellent job in not only pushing the offensive tempo and generating the counter-attack for the Hawks, but is helping the team defensively too with partner Brent Seabrook.
Then there is forward Patrick Sharp, who has been doing a good job of generating offensive push along with linemate Marian Hossa. He has been as aggressive as he’s ever been on zone entries and in terms of taking shots, but he doesn’t have any results yet to show for it. He has three assists in the team’s first five games, but he also has 18 shots on goal and hasn’t scored on any of them.
Obviously, any goal scorer is going to go through lulls in scoring (see Jonathan Toews’ performance in the playoffs last season as a sterling example of this), but when it comes to Sharp, he is usually rolling pretty well once the season gets started. He had two goals and four assists through the first five games of the 2013 season, and the year before that, he had one goal and four assists to go along with 20 shots in the 2011-12 season.
Despite those successes early in the past two seasons, Sharp has gone through some lulls in those campaigns too. In 2013, Sharp went 10 games without scoring, and he racked up 24 shots as he tried to work through that slump. The season previous, he had an outrageous seven game stretch that he racked up 25 shots, but he wasn’t able to put the puck in the net.
So what is causing Sharp’s current struggle to score? There are a myriad of factors involved, with the most blatant one just being bad luck. The Hawks have gone up against some really good goaltending in the season’s opening days, with Ryan Miller, Ben Bishop, and Jaroslav Halak all having excellent games against the Hawks’ scorers.
Other factors include the birth of his second child (Sharp’s wife Abby gave birth on Sunday night to Sadie, the couple's second daughter), which will obviously distract even the most strong-minded individuals. Aside from off-ice stuff though, one other thing that Sharp needs to work on in order to score goals is showing a bit of patience when he’s on the ice. Too often, Sharp will enter the offensive zone with the puck, and instead of circling around if he doesn’t have a teammate in the zone with him, Sharp will force a shot on net, and no one will be front of the goal to either provide a screen for the shot or to collect the rebound as the goalie fights it off.
That has been a hallmark of Sharp’s game in recent years, but he is at his best when he is able to take advantage of help from the other wing or from the center slot. He has shown more patience in recent games, picking up an assist on Kane’s power play goal against the Sabres on Saturday when he skated around the back of the net to allow Andrew Shaw to get reset in front of the Buffalo crease, and then he found Kane with a perfect pass.
If Sharp can allow the patience he displayed on that play to creep into the rest of his offensive game, then the goals will come for him. Unfortunately, that might not happen right away, as Sharp hasn’t made it a habit of scoring much against Tuesday night’s opponent, the Carolina Hurricanes. Sharp only has one career goal against the Canes, and has four assists in seven career games.