As the Canucks captain takes his rightful spot among the rest of the best in the National Hockey League at the All-Star weekend in Ottawa, he’ll have a chance to put his many talents on display. Henrik leads the league in assists and sits tied for third in overall scoring. It’s exactly where you’d expect to find one of the truly elite playmakers in the game.
However, something is a little different about Henrik Sedin’s game these days. He’s hardly shooting the puck. Now, perhaps it’s no big deal that a pass-first guy who can thread a puck through hockey’s equivalent of the eye of a needle – so ridiculously talented he can often do it without looking or do it behind his back -- is looking to make plays rather than put the puck on net.
But for a guy who scored 29 goals two seasons ago and won the Hart Trophy by bringing such a well-rounded game to the rink each and every night, it seems somewhat surprising to see him revert to being a playmaker only. And it’s newsworthy because Henrik Sedin hits the All-Star break on a four game pointless streak, a seven game goalless run and he’s on pace for his fewest shots on goal since the 2005-06 season (113) when he was still emerging as one of the top players in the game.
When he scored 29 goals in 2009-10, Henrik Sedin registered a career-high 166 shots on goal. He followed that up with 157 last year when he found the back of the net 19 times.
Through the first 49 games this season, Henrik has hit the net 71 times. That is 12th on the team in shots and it puts him on pace for just 119 shots this season. But even his overall totals don’t tell the full story right now because Henrik has just 22 shots in his last 18 games. He hasn’t registered more than two shots in a game since a 4-3 loss in Carolina on December 15th and hasn’t had more than two shots in a Canucks victory since he scored in a 4-1 win over the New York Islanders on November 13th.
Of the top 90 scorers in the NHL right now, Henrik trails all but Nashville’s Martin Erat (64) in shots on goal. And while he sits tied for fifth in league scoring, Henrik is 258th in the league in shots on goal – tied there with Calgary’s Blake Comeau and Dallas defenseman Alex Goligoski.
Henrik scored eight times on his first 36 shots in the team’s first 23 games this season and gave every indication he was headed for another 20-plus goal campaign. But he has just three goals on 35 shots over the past 26 games. Because of that, 25 of Henrik’s last 28 scoring points have been assists.
So what does all of this mean? And why does it matter that the top playmaker in the league isn’t blasting away?
Henrik Sedin has shown an ability to be a scorer in the past, so he’s certainly capable of doing it. But you can’t score if you don’t shoot and it seems like Henrik has switched off his goal-scoring instinct right now. When the threat of a shot exists from any player on the ice, it forces defenses to react differently than they have to if they know a player is always looking to dish the puck to a teammate. If Henrik has opponents thinking he might shoot on occasion that can create space and open up passing lanes that can allow him to set up those around him.
In that regard, it’s a little like football. Quarterbacks would all love to do nothing but throw spirals all day. But a running game keeps defenses off balance and in the long run that enhances the passing game. As strange as it may sound for one of the best passers in the NHL, Henrik Sedin can help his game by firing away. Putting pucks on net doesn’t automatically mean they’ll find their way past the goalie, but they can lead to bounces or rebounds that create scoring chances for teammates.
Seven of Henrik’s 11 goals this season have come on a power play that was nearly unstoppable in November and into early-December. However, his goal-scoring has slowed and as a result so too has the power play’s prowess particularly on home ice where it has cashed in just three times in its last 27 chances. The Canucks need the power play clicking and they require all five guys on the ice during the man-advantage to have the ability to put the puck in the net from time to time – and Henrik Sedin is no exception.
No one is expecting him to stray from what has made him wildly successful and he will always be a playmaker first. But Henrik has way too much talent to be a set-up guy only. And with so many close games in the NHL – particularly after the All-Star break and down the stretch, a goal here and a goal there can make a huge difference in the outcome of hockey games.
For the Vancouver Canucks to have a shot at being the best team in the league for a second straight season, they need one of their best players to shoot the puck just a little more.