Examining Patrik Laine's cold streak, what he needs to do to score again

Watch Columbus Blue Jackets forward Patrik Laine drive a powerful slapshot through Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Kevin Lankinen in NHL action.

Look up streaky in the dictionary and you might find a picture of Patrik Laine. Think back to the 2018-19 season when Laine scored 18 goals in 12 games in November and 12 in the other 70 games combined.

So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Laine got off to a hot start this season, scoring eight goals in his first 11 games, and has followed that with one goal in his past 17.

What is surprising, though, is that not only have the goals disappeared, but the scoring chances have as well. It’s one thing if the results aren’t there -- another entirely if the process is broken.

“I’ve always told everybody, I’m not worried as long as I’m getting chances,” Laine said recently. “So I feel like this is kind of new. I’m not even getting chances. That’s something I’ve never had before."

It looked as though Laine would be able to inject some much-needed offence into a Columbus team that struggles to score goals. However, if you look at Laine’s expected goals total (a reflection of shot quality and quantity) in his first 11 games, you’ll notice he outperformed it by a considerable margin. Lots of goals, but also signs that based on the types of chances he was producing, he would likely not score at that rate for long.

In fairness, players like Laine, Alex Ovechkin, Auston Matthews, etc., who score regularly from distance, consistently outperform their expected goal total. However, outperforming it by as much as Laine was is not normal and most often not sustainable. In the 17 games since, Laine is putting approximately the same amount of shots on net though not nearly as many are coming from high-danger scoring areas. He is now underperforming his expected goal total. While Laine didn’t offer much as to how he can start scoring again, there are a few red flags in his offensive game recently.

Creating Offence with Speed

We know Laine can wire the puck from the left face-off circle. Five of his nine goals this season have come from his office. The other four have all come off the rush.

If you noticed in the graphic above, Laine has gone from averaging one rush scoring chance per game to fewer than one every two games in this cold stretch. Creating offence in transition is an area where Laine has likely not been given enough credit in his career. Once he builds up speed, Laine is tough to stop through the neutral zone and into the attacking end. He scored twice off the rush in his first and only game with the Winnipeg Jets this season.

In his career, almost a third of Laine’s even-strength goals have come off the rush, 32 per cent to be exact. His shot is unpredictable and tough to read as it is. Factor in the threat of a rush chance and additional reads goalies have to pick up and he’s that much more deadly. The Blue Jackets, however, are not a team that generates much offence off the rush ranking, 26th in rush scoring chances and 27th in rush goals. Playing mostly with Kevin Stenlund and Max Domi/Oliver Bjorkstrand recently, Laine has not been getting much in the way of transition offence.

Shot Location

Laine was asked recently if John Tortorella’s attempts to change his game may be playing a role in his offensive struggles. Laine said he wasn’t sure and that he’s “usually the high guy looking for openings where I can maybe receive the puck and try to shoot it. That’s what I’m good at.” Yes, he certainly is.

Everybody knows how well he can shoot the puck, but the fact remains that more than half the goals scored in the NHL come from the net-front, inner slot area and even the best shooters in the game still need to get to that area to score. In Laine’s career, one-third of his even-strength goals have come from the inner slot.

In his last 17 games, Laine has one shot on goal from this location.

Part of this has to do with Laine creating less off the rush, but part of it also has to do with him relying too often on shots from areas where it’s difficult, even for a player with an elite shot, to score from. The proof is in Laine’s expected goal rate this season compared to past year. At a per-20 minute rate, Laine is having by far his worst season in terms of shot quality and quantity.

This speaks to what Laine said about not getting chances.

Even as the high forward in the offensive zone, Laine has to find a way to create more from closer to the net. This isn’t to say he should park himself in front of the net in the offensive zone, but even a high forward can find ways to rotate in the attacking end and create lanes for himself to get open in higher quality scoring areas.

Laine played the same F3 role in Winnipeg and was still able to produce shots and goals from more dangerous areas more often.

While puck retrieval has never been a hallmark of Laine’s game, he’s recovering loose pucks and winning puck battles in the offensive zone at the lowest rate of his career. This coincides with the main point of emphasis here: Laine’s best bet to start producing chances and ultimately goals is to move his feet more often.

Laine hasn’t forgotten how to score and he still has a respectable nine goals in 28 games. Once the chances start coming, the goals will certainly follow.

Creating offence off the rush, getting closer to the net, and winning the puck back when you don’t have it are all areas of Laine’s game that have dropped off this season. All can be helped by being more active in the play.

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