Kirby Dach entered Wednesday with just two even-strength points this season. | Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Dach’s hesitancy to shoot hampered his production during his first two NHL seasons, but his slow start this season stems from a different issue.
In his first two NHL seasons, center Kirby Dach struggled to be assertive with his shot. He’d forgo too many shooting opportunities for passes when the former was a better option.
Eleven games into his third season, however, Dach, 20, is proving more willing than ever to shoot, but he’s struggling with accuracy.
“I feel more confident in my shot and my ability to score from everywhere,” Dach said this week. “It’s just about putting pucks on net instead of missing the net.”
Dach was one of the Blackhawks’ most noticeable and effective players, even while the rest of the team seemed completely lost, during their opening road trip. The work he put in over the summer to fully heal his surgically repaired wrist and refine his skating technique — improving his edge control, increasing his acceleration and connecting his upper-body movements to his stride — made an immediate difference.
But Dach’s opening-week momentum has morphed into an early-season malaise.
Entering Wednesday, his even-strength production consisted of only one goal and one assist through 10 games (with an additional two power-play goals). While Dach still looks improved from last season, and his overall influence on the game has been larger, he still hasn’t quite unlocked his dominant potential.
“It’s a lot of responsibility we’re putting on him,” coach Jeremy Colliton said. “It’s his third year, but in age, he’s still a young, young guy. We’re asking him to take the top matchup almost every night, and he’s playing in all situations, and it’s difficult.
“But he’s getting better all the time. There’s more there, for sure; he’s got more to give. He’s such a big body, and he’s so strong on the puck. When he brings that every shift, he’s a force out there. He’s really hard to defend, [and] he’s excellent defensively. It’s just a matter of . . . trying to do [that] more consistently every minute he’s on the ice.”
The game Saturday against the Blues showed how close Dach is to breaking through as well as how he’s not taking full advantage of his opportunities yet. Dach unleashed four shots toward goalie Jordan Binnington, of which three were credited as scoring chances, but none actually forced Binnington to make a save.
“I had four [shots] that went over the net or missed the net wide,” Dach said. “I’m getting the chances; I’ve just got to put it there and get it on net instead of missing the net wide. I don’t think . . . [I’m] slipping. I just didn’t hit the net.”
That game was the third in a row in which Dach didn’t have an even-strength shot on goal, a streak he finally broke with two Monday against the Senators.
It’s not for a lack of trying. Dach’s even-strength shot rate has risen from 10.8 and 9.1 in 2019-20 and 2020-21, respectively, to 11.1 this season (entering Wednesday). Those shots are more threatening than ever, too: 77.8% have been considered scoring chances, up from 60.7% previously.
But the percentage of those attempts making it on goal has dropped from 55.7% his first two seasons to 44.4%. The NHL average, by comparison, is 54.9%.
Colliton is at least encouraged by Dach’s frustration with his substandard results in that regard, saying his “awareness of that shows [he’s] moving in the right direction.”
And Dach does sound more trigger-happy this fall, not only for himself but also for the Hawks. He cited the “need to shoot” more frequently as the key to jump-starting the offense.
“We’re passing up too many opportunities,” he said. “When you’re in a slump like this, the best thing for our group is to get pucks on net, go there and score greasy goals to get the ball rolling.”