With a goal in a Wednesday loss to Colorado, Patrick Kane extended his personal scoring streak to three games. It’s a modest run for one of the NHL’s most talented offensive players, a player who had 12-game and 14-game scoring runs earlier this season. But it’s highly welcomed news because it’s the first sign that a slump that has devastated the second half of his season may be coming to an end.
Kane hadn’t had a three-game scoring run since the halfway point of the season. That was December 28, the last contest in that set of 14 consecutive games with at least one point.
How bad has it been? There’s simply no comparison between Kane’s two segments of the season:
That is an incredible drop. Kane’s gone from scoring at a 46-goal, 106-point pace down to a 21-goal, 48-point pace, and that’s before we get into what has happened to his plus/minus. It is the difference between a first-team All-Star and mediocre second-line forward, and for a Stanley Cup contender like Chicago, it’s a deeply disturbing transition.
So what is happening? Is this an even-strength problem or a power-play problem? A chart of Kane’s goals, assists and points per hour in each discipline shows that the trouble stretches across the board:
Asked about his declining production by NHL.com’s Brian Hedger a few weeks ago, Kane was dismissive. He told Hedger that he was excited about where his game was and how he could improve it down the stretch. He further suggested that it was just naturally more difficult to score later in the season:
I think your game changes as the season goes on. Sometimes you try to get back to that type of (early-season) form, but I think teams get better as you get later into the season too. So, you try to adjust any way you can to get opportunities (to score).
We are now at the point where it’s difficult to just brush off Kane’s difficulties.
It’s true that some of the problem falls on shooting percentage, a highly variable statistic. Kane has had ups and downs over his career, but on average, he has an 11.7 shooting percentage. Earlier this year, he was exceeding that number significantly (23 goals on 137 shots, 16.8 shooting percentage), and more recently, he’s been on the other side of things (six goals on 76 shots, 7.9 shooting percentage). That happens over the course of a season, and if Kane’s recent slump was simply a result of a shooting percentage drop, we’d wave it away. But that isn’t the only thing that’s happening here.
Kane’s assist production is down, both at five-on-five and on the power play. The Blackhawks’ goals-for and goals-against totals when he’s on the ice at even strength are down. Chicago’s Corsi rating with Kane on the ice—the number of shot attempts the Blackhawks take versus the number of shot attempts the opposition takes—is down, too.
Some of these issues are team-wide. The Blackhawks are in a bit of a shooting percentage slump at both even strength and on the power play, which cuts into everyone’s production:
A personal shooting percentage slump means fewer goals. A team-wide shooting percentage slump means fewer assists for everybody.
Does this team-wide slump explain Kane’s collapse? It does explain a portion of it, but not nearly all. The power play is down more than 50 percent in goal scoring per hour, but Kane’s production is down by nearly two-thirds. At even strength, the gap is even wider; Chicago’s goal scoring has fallen off by 25 percent, but Kane’s point production is down by more than 50 percent.
There’s another problem, too: The difficulty in separating cause from effect. It’s possible that the power play is struggling, thereby hurting Kane’s numbers, but it’s also possible that Kane’s struggles are what is ailing the power play. It’s particularly true because Kane leads Chicago’s man advantage in ice time. The same is true (albeit to a lesser degree) at even strength.
In many cases, a player’s individual struggles can be traced back to things beyond his control. Shooting percentage fluctuates up and down, at both the team and individual levels, and it can play havoc with a player’s personal statistics. That simply doesn’t cut it as an explanation here. Neither do factors like linemates; the drop is simply too big to be chalked up to external factors.
Kane’s play is slipping, badly. The Blackhawks have between now and the end of the season to figure out what the problem is and correct it. The West is simply too competitive for Chicago to win with Patrick Kane doing his best Kris Versteeg impression.