Upsetting the hockey gods? Dylan Sikura feels close to breaking through for first NHL goal

Upsetting the hockey gods? Dylan Sikura feels close to breaking through for first NHL goal

Dylan Sikura has appeared in 30 career NHL games. He's been on the ice for 124 scoring chances, according to Forty-nine of those have been from high-danger areas. He has 50 shots on goal himself. But he's still looking for his first goal.

What did he do to upset the hockey gods?

"I don't know, it's a little bit of a struggle right now," a smiling Sikura told NBC Sports Chicago. "But individually and as a team the last four or five games we've been pretty good. Hope the goals will come, but any way I can contribute or help out ... I'm feeling good, feel like I'm doing some good things out there and helping the team win, and ultimately that's the end goal for us. We want to be in that playoff spot, we want to make a push here, so if it's contributing away from the scoresheet, then that's what I'll have to do and that's how I'll do it then. Hopefully I get one before it's too late."

On Wednesday in Toronto, Sikura had one of his best games in a Blackhawks sweater. He had a primary assist, career-high five shots on goal, was on the ice for 14 shots on goal for and only five against at even strength and had a plus-2 rating. He followed that up on Saturday in Montreal with an even better game, even though the scoresheet didn't reflect it.

For the second straight game, Sikura led the Blackhawks in possession numbers, had six shot attempts (four on goal, one hit the crossbar and the other was blocked) and was on the ice for a team-high 13 scoring chances and six high-danger chances at even strength. That's a formula that will work in the long term and, if he can carry over performances like that, it will only be a matter of time before he breaks through.

"The way he’s playing, yeah, he will," coach Jeremy Colliton said. "I’m sure it’s frustrating for him not to score, but he’s being impactful every game, he’s helping the guys he’s on the ice with have positive shifts and he’s making some plays. It just hasn’t gone in for him. If he continues to play the way he has, he’s going to be really valuable for us."

Jonathan Toews has been Sikura's linemate for several games now, and acknowledged that he's been doing the right things on the ice. The Blackhawks captain even gave Sikura a hug mid-game on Saturday after the latter rang one off the crossbar in the second period. 

"He's making plays, he's confident with the puck, I think that's No. 1," Toews said. "He knows he's getting chances every night. What else can you do? Sometimes they don't go in and it's one of those things he's going to have to work for his first one and it'll be all downhill from there."

The hockey gods have a way of evening things out over time. Sometimes the goals come when you're not playing you're best, and sometimes they don't go in when they should be. There's a decent chance that when Sikura finally scores his first, the floodgates could open. That's the nature of the sport.

"All throughout your life you go through spurts where you don't score or you're scoring goals that shouldn't be going in," Sikura said. "But I think over time hopefully this is something we can laugh about maybe two or three years down the road. For now obviously it's tough, but hopefully I get that first one and the hockey gods turn on my side and I can get a couple more."

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Blackhawks 2018-19 season grades: Coaching

Blackhawks 2018-19 season grades: Coaching

Jeremy Colliton had difficult shoes to fill. That's an understatement.

He replaced a three-time Stanley Cup winner and the second-winningest NHL coach of all-time in Joel Quenneville. And Colliton jumped in at the age of 33 just days after he and his wife welcomed their third child.

To make things even more complicated, Colliton took over as Blackhawks head coach just one month into the season and had to implement some new components of his system on the fly. That took a while for the veterans who had been playing one way for the last 10-plus years to adjust.

Colliton's No. 1 priority when he came to Chicago was to help fix a power-play unit that ranked third-worst during the 2017-18 campaign with a 16.0 percent success rate and 26th through the first 15 games of the 2018-19 season with a 14.0 percentage. It wasn't getting any better.

But from the day he got hired and on, the Blackhawks finished with the seventh-best power play (21.8 percent). It dried up down the stretch, but that was after a two-month span where it was converting at nearly a 40 percent clip. It was bound for regression.

The penalty kill, however, is something that stayed in the basement of the NHL all season long. They were 23rd under Quenneville through the first 15 games (76.6 percent) and finished last with a 71.7 percent kill rate under Colliton in the remaining 67 games. You can overcome a struggling power play, but it's almost impossible to overcome a bad penalty kill.

At 5-on-5 play under Quenneville this season, the Blackhawks had an expected goals for percentage of 45.8, a scoring chances for percentage of 49.2 and high-danger chances for percentage of 43.6, according to Under Colliton, they had an expected GF percentage of 45.8, SCF percentage of 46.9 and HDCF percentage of 42.6.

The sample sizes obviously aren't the same (15 games vs. 67) and, as we mentioned above, it took a couple of months for the Blackhawks to really get comfortable with Colliton's defensive structure. They certainly went through growing pains.

But with the Blackhawks expected to be active this summer in free agency and adding players that fit their new head coach's style, coupled with the fact that Colliton will have a full training camp to iron out the kinks and incorporate even more elements into his system, and the team could hit the ground running for the 2019-20 campaign rather than playing catch-up all season long. 

"I think as you go you get more comfortable, you gain confidence, you go through experiences and deal with situations that come up and they're challenging at times," Colliton said. "You get through it. And then the next time stuff comes up, you feel more confident, you feel better about what you're doing. I had confidence when I came in November that I had a plan and we as a staff could make some progress. It took longer than we all would have liked, but I think I'm a better coach now than when I walked in, and I'm going to use that going forward. 

"There's going to be challenging circumstances next year too where maybe doesn't come easy. But I think all the best coaches get better all the time. Every day they're bringing new ideas and new energy and looking outside for inspiration. That's what I expect to."

Coaching: B-

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What Ian Mitchell returning to college means for Blackhawks

What Ian Mitchell returning to college means for Blackhawks

After falling short of a Frozen Four championship with Denver, the attention in Chicago turned to defenseman prospect Ian Mitchell and whether he'd sign an entry-level deal with the Blackhawks. It felt like it was only a matter of time before he would do so, but as the days passed, there seemed to be growing speculation that that may not be the case.

On Wednesday, Mitchell made it official and announced his decision to return to college for his junior season by releasing this statement on Denver's website:

"In the past few days since our season ended, I have had the chance to reflect on the year and the season our team had. It became clear to me during that time that I did not feel ready mentally or physically to leave Denver. I believe this is the best place for me to become a better hockey player and as a team we have an opportunity to do something very special next year. I would like to thank the Chicago Blackhawks organization for being so supportive and respectful of my decision to remain in school and continue my development. I am looking forward to next season."

So what does this mean for the Blackhawks?

For one, it immediately eliminates Mitchell from the equation of making the 2019-20 Opening Day roster even though he might be the most pro-ready of the three top Blackhawks defensemen prospects that haven't appeared in an NHL game yet (Nicolas Beaudin and Adam Boqvist). It's probably a wise move for his long-term development.

But with Beaudin and Boqvist also in the same boat as far as maybe needing some more time to develop, it's entirely possible all three won't be in the NHL next season. Which is fine. The Blackhawks have always preached patience when it comes to prospects developing at their own pace.

But it puts the Blackhawks in a position the following season where they could be breaking in several young defensemen at once depending on where they're at in their timelines. Maybe that's a good problem to have. It also depends on the number of roster spots available, which is a conversation for a different day.

In going back to college, Mitchell, a second-round pick (No. 57 overall) in 2017, pushes back his eligibility to sign with the Blackhawks to the spring of 2020. And yes, it's too early to start wondering whether the Blackhawks could lose his signing rights if he returns to college for a senior season and elects to go to free agency. 

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