Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

SLUMPS: A curious malady

Mired in goalless drought, Kane searches for cure

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Gretzky had them, although not very often. Same for Lemieux and Hull, Richard and Bossy.

It happens to all the greats, all those NHL snipers whose job is to put the puck behind enemy goaltenders as often as possible. Slumps.

Although there is no fancy-schmancy Latin term for the malady -- goal-scoring slump would roughly translate to calx-utulo dormio -- although it is often referred to in modern times as "snakebitten" or simple hard luck.

The symptoms are many, from a violent abuse of a stick after a missed chance to the more subtle anguished glance to the heavens, followed by a head held in hands.

Phil Kessel of the Toronto Maple Leafs arrived in town a week ago in the throes of one, only to break it in dramatic fashion with a game-winner.

Evander Kane is suffering through a minor depression and last year Bryan Little and Blake Wheeler opened their first season in Winnipeg with prolonged goal-scoring droughts.

Kane, for example, had six shots on goal in Tuesday's 3-2 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers and since scoring the overtime winner against the New York Islanders on Jan. 27, has gone seven games without raising his arms in celebration.

"It's obviously frustrating, but you can't let it frustrate you to the extent where you're not focused and it's affecting your play," Kane said after the Flyers' loss. "In terms of myself, it's never fun when you get the opportunities and it's not going in. You've just got to work harder and bear down a little bit more.

"It's a positive thing when you're getting chances because it means you're breaking their defensive zone down. But at the same time, it's great to get chances, but you have to put it by them."

That's the silver lining for the Jets' young sniper, a man who had 30 goals last season: During the seven-game dry stretch he has had 25 shots and is getting both power-play and penalty-kill time.

"It's a mentality," said Wheeler in a chat on the "snakebitten" subject last week. "When a goal-scorer loses that confidence you see him do things he wouldn't do normally.

"For me it's about getting into certain areas. When I'm not scoring goals I'm relying a little bit too much on my playmaking ability and staying on the outside a little bit too much. It's about getting into those scoring areas and picking up rebounds and tips.

"When it ended, it felt like planet Earth had come off my shoulders," added Wheeler. "I mean, I'm still answering questions about that to this day... I still talk about that 18 games (without a goal). I'll probably never get past it no matter what I do the rest of my career. It feels pretty great when it's finally over."

That's what Little remembers, first and foremost, about his slump last season. Very open and honest about what he was going through during the bad spell, he remembers the relief he felt when the drought ended.

And he's learned a thing or two from it.

"What I try to do is not bear down, not squeeze your stick," Little said. "I try to worry about other things like winning face-offs or trying not to turn the puck over and just working hard. If I'm concentrating on wsomething else it helps take my mind off scoring. But that's the hardest thing: trying to stay positive.

"The best advice I got from people was simple: Just keep getting those chances and it will happen. You really start to worry when you aren't getting chances. That's when you have to look at you're game and analyze things.

"It's weird how it works," Little added. "You can be playing the best hockey of your life and not be scoring. You can also have a really bad game and get a fluky one. That's how the game works. It's a funny, funny game. Believe me, I know. I've been in a few slumps."

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @WFPEdTait

Goal-scoring droughts

and streaks

We asked, but the NHL does not have a record of goal-scoring droughts for some of the game's greats. But here are some numbers that may be of note:

2 -- Jet regulars without a goal this season: Kyle Wellwood and Ron Hainsey. Wellwood last scored on March 31, 2012 before his season ended with an injury. Ironically, he was in a stretch where he had scored three goals in four games before being injured. Hainsey, a defensive specialist, is looking for his first goal as a Jet.

-328 -- The Jets/Atlanta Thrashers career goal-scoring record, held by Ilya Kovalchuk. The only current Jet in the franchise top five is Little, who is fourth overall with 94 (Vyacheslave Kozlov is second at 145, Marian Hossa third at 108).

-7 -- The Jets/Thrashers franchise consecutive goal-scoring streak is held by Kovalchuk, who scored 11 times in seven games during a stretch of the 2005-06 season.

-16 -- The NHL record for longest consecutive goal-scoring streak, in games, set by Punch Broadbent of Ottawa in 1921-22 (he had 27 goals in that span).

21 -- Longest goal-scoring drought of Wayne Gretzky's career, during the 1996-97 season.

.762 -- The NHL's highest per-game goal scoring average, held by Mike Bossy of the New York Islanders (573 goals in 752 games).

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 14, 2013 D3

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