CHICAGO -- Brad Richards has been around the NHL long enough to recognize a hockey illusion when he sees one.
That's why he didn't flinch a couple weeks ago when asked about the Chicago Blackhawks having difficulty scoring goals. They were shutout Oct. 28 at United Center by the Anaheim Ducks, a 1-0 game highlighted by Anaheim rookie goaltender John Gibson.
It was the first time the Blackhawks were shut out this season, but not the first time they'd struggled to score despite controlling most facets of the game. Despite posting great puck-possession statistics, their 2.33 goals-per-game average was down almost a full goal per game from the previous two seasons, when Chicago ranked near the top of the League in that category.
That's really when questions started multiplying about their lack of offense, which Richards quickly shot down.
"You can't start breaking away, cheating, looking for extra things because we're not scoring goals," said the 34-year-old veteran center. "[Anaheim's] a good hockey team that we held, pretty much, to few chances. If you draw up how to play that team, that was a good game and we can't lose focus on that just trying to cheat and get more offense."
Stay the course, in other words. Keep playing the "right" way. Things will turn eventually, possibly as soon as their next game Friday against the Washington Capitals (8:30 p.m. ET, NHLN-US).
All of those sentiments have become mantras for the Blackhawks in a short amount of time. They believe their lack of goals this season is part anomaly and part their own fault for not attacking the net hard enough.
There is evidence to suggest both assessments are correct.
Nineteen of Chicago's 32 non-shootout goals through the first 13 games were scored in four games, including a 5-0 victory Tuesday at Bell Centre against the Montreal Canadiens. The common theme linking those four games is how much the Blackhawks swarmed the opposing net, creating constant havoc for defensemen and goaltenders.
"Very unusual for us [not to score], especially when we get the quality or the quantity of shots [we want]," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "I still think there's a higher quality that can be generated by us by getting to the net more, make it harder on goalies seeing pucks. I think that can ignite our offense, whether it's on the power play or in a 5-on-5 situation. There's where [we've] got to get. We're certainly getting [offensive] zone time. We're getting enough shots. But let's find more traffic."
When they do the goals seem to come in bunches. And yet there's also the anomaly part, which can be found in Chicago's other nine games. Despite dominating puck possession in most of those games, the Blackhawks scored 13 goals (1.44 per game).
The loss to Anaheim was a great example.
Other than sustaining their third regulation defeat, the Blackhawks didn't have a lot to gripe about. They outshot the Ducks 38-25, had 22 more total shot attempts (66-44), won 61 percent of faceoffs and killed Anaheim's only power play. But they didn't score and lost the game on a turnover in the third period that led to the game-winning goal, a shorthanded breakaway score by forward Devante Smith-Pelly.
"You can take some positives out of it," said left wing Patrick Sharp, who sustained a lower-body injury Tuesday in Montreal. "We always say the key to our team is the way we check and defend our net. I thought we did a very good job of that against a tough Anaheim team."
An overtime loss to the Calgary Flames on Oct. 15 at United Center was even more vexing. That game finished with the Blackhawks ahead 50-18 in shots and 96-33 in shot attempts against a goaltender who had been scuffling. Prior to making 49 saves in the Blackhawks' 2-1 overtime loss, Calgary's Jonas Hiller was 0-2-0 with a 3.53 goals-against average and .901 save percentage.
A week later, as concerns about Chicago's offense surfaced, the Blackhawks had no trouble scoring in a 4-0 victory against the Philadelphia Flyers. It was the first sign of what's been a turbulent, feast-or-famine start to the season.
Following the loss to Anaheim the Blackhawks scored four goals in a 5-4 shootout win Oct. 30 at the Ottawa Senators. They followed that by scoring two goals in back-to-back losses at the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday and at home Sunday against the Winnipeg Jets.
After failing to score on 26 third-period shots against Toronto, the Jets handed Chicago its second 1-0 defeat of the season, extending the Blackhawks' scoreless streak at United Center to seven straight periods and counting.
"It can [be streaky]," Quenneville said of scoring goals. "It can be more so for individual scorers. Sometimes they get red hot; sometimes they go a little bit cold. At the same time, as a team we've never had that issue. We've always found a way to get some type of production. Doesn't matter what line or who [scores]."
Right Wing - CHI
GOALS: 4 | ASST: 5 | PTS: 9
SOG: 37 | +/-: -3
Though that may be true, it hasn't stopped Quenneville from searching for productive line combinations. Already known for juggling his lines, he's worked overtime at it this season. He's tried almost every possible combination together, including reuniting Jonathan Toews
and Patrick Kane
on the top line Tuesday.
Quenneville has moved players up and down the lineup, withheld ice time for some and added it to others. Yet nothing really has had great effect. No matter who has played together, they've played strong games almost every time out.
According to Puckalytics.com, Chicago entered play Wednesday with a League-high 671 shots attempted at 5-on-5, and their Corsi-for percentage of 57.0 also topped the League.
Eliminating blocked shots (Fenwick) changes little in showing how effectively Chicago has possessed the puck during 5-on-5 play. The Blackhawks' Fenwick-for percentage of 56.1 is second to the Minnesota Wild.
Chicago also has taken an impressive 40.1 percent of faceoffs in the offensive zone.
All those metrics say the Blackhawks shouldn't be struggling to score goals.
But they are scuffling in that category, at least when it comes to scoring on a consistent basis. That shows not only in their 7-5-1 record, but also in their team 5-on-5 shooting percentage of 5.19 percent, which was 29th in the League entering play Wednesday. The Blackhawks had an 8.43 5-on-5 shooting percentage last season and 8.97 percent in 2012-13. That's why it's easy to see why there's no panic in the Blackhawks locker room.
Stay the course. Keep playing the "right" way. Things will turn eventually.
"You go through stretches," Quenneville said. "Sometimes some stats become fluky and unusual. Try to find a good explanation for it, you might not find one. I feel that with the ability we have in the locker room and the balance we have in our lineup ... we feel it's just a matter of time. We're getting enough looks and enough chances that find a way to get through. It's still early, but one thing we don't have to worry about too often is production."
In other words, why start now?