When the puck bounced off the sideboards and right to Connor Murphy late in the first period Monday night against the Sharks, the Chicago Blackhawks’ defenseman never hesitated.
He wound up, cranked the puck toward San Jose goalie Martin Jones and a split-second later it was in the back of the net.
By the numbers
Goals by Blackhawks defensemen the last 4 seasons:
Season Goals Leader
2014-15 29 Keith, 10
2015-16 31 Seabrook, 14
2016-17 30 Keith, 6
2017-18 28 Seabrook, Rutta, 6
Goals by defensemen on Central Division teams:
1. Nashville 51 5. HAWKS 28
2. St. Louis 43 5. Dallas 28
3. Colorado 38 7. Winnipeg 27
4. Minnesota 36
* All stats through Monday
“I was waiting for one of those to go,” said Murphy after the Hawks’ 4-3 shootout loss.
That pretty much sums up the feelings of the entire Hawks’ D corps for much of this season as blue liners accounted for just 18 goals in the first 57 games.
Lately, though, it has been a different story, thanks — in part, anyway — to assistant coach Ulf Samuelsson.
“We’d been getting a lot of shots blocked before,” said Murphy, who now has 2 goals on 98 attempts. “We were talking and Ulfie was showing us how we can get more of our shots through and get them in the air.
“(Try) to shoot a lot more one-timers off the passes up to the point. So there’s definitely a little bit of (emphasis) on that.”
This recent hot streak began when Duncan Keith finally notched his first — and only — goal of the season in Game 58 against Anaheim on Feb. 15.
Since then, Brent Seabrook (3), Erik Gustafsson (2), Jordan Oesterle (2), Jan Rutta (1) and Murphy (1) have all scored. That’s 10 goals in the last 20 contests, and the Hawks are 5-4-1 in those games.
It’s a good sign heading into next season because while the Hawks haven’t been known as a high-scoring team from the back end, their lack of production was alarming.
Their defensemen now have 28 goals, and if players such as Oesterle, Rutta, Gustafsson and Gustav Forsling continue to make strides — and Duncan Keith doesn’t go 1-for-180 again — there’s no reason to think that number can’t surpass 40 in 2018-19.
Patrick Sharp scored his 10th goal of the season and No. 249 with the Blackhawks during a 4-3 shootout loss to San Jose on Monday. The veteran won’t talk about it publicly, but it’s entirely possible he’s about to play his final five games for the team he helped lead to three Stanley Cups.
“It’s been tough the last few weeks,” Sharp said. “A difficult situation to be in for a lot of reasons.”
Still, Sharp wants to end on a high note.
“There’s a lot to play for, whether it’s certain guys in the locker room or whether it’s the team building for next year,” he said. “So you want make sure to put your best effort out there every night.”
The Hawks signed 22-year-old defenseman Blake Hillman to a two-year deal Tuesday that runs through next season. Hillman, a sixth-round pick of the Hawks in 2016, recently completed his junior season at the University of Denver. … The Hawks assigned Matthew Highmore to Rockford on Tuesday. Highmore scored 2 goals in 13 games. … The Hawks also placed goalie J-F Berube on waivers.