Riley Sheahan was among the several players the Detroit Red Wings were hoping would step up this season. Inked to a two-year, $4.15-million extension in the off-season, Sheahan was coming off of a career-best 14-goal season, had scored 27 goals and 61 points over his past two campaigns and was projected to take a spot squarely in the middle of the lineup. There was an even an opportunity to potentially step in as a member of the top-six.
Then a scoring slump hit.
Sheahan struggled to find twine through the first month of the season. He fired 15 shots on goal across the first 10 games of the campaign but came up empty handed. The scoreless streak stretched through November, by which point Sheahan had put 32 pucks on net without lighting the lamp. And then it continued. And continued. And has since continued to a point where Sheahan’s dreadful drought has now literally reached historic levels.
In Wednesday’s game against the Boston Bruins, Sheahan fired three pucks on goal, each of which was stopped by Tuukka Rask. The shots were Sheahan’s 84th, 85th and 86th of the season, and he now holds the record for most shots by a forward to start a season without scoring a goal. The previous record in the time since the league began keeping track was 84 shots, set by then-Pittsburgh Penguins winger Craig Adams in 2009-10. Sheahan could widen the gap, too. At his current pace, he’s set to fire 109 shots on goal. And if he stays without a single tally to his name, he’ll be one of only eight players — forward or defense — to blast that much rubber on net without scoring.
It’s hard to believe Sheahan’s drought has reached this point. While he’s never been a consistent 20-goal player or a top scorer wherever he’s been, he’s always managed to contribute offensively. During his college years, he scored 20 goals across 114 games for Notre Dame. In the AHL, he potted 25 goals in 110 contests. Even entering this NHL season, he had 36 goals in 204 games. He’s not Alex Ovechkin, but he’s also not zero goals-in-63-games bad.
What makes the scoreless streak so much harder to understand is that there is some measure of luck, or lack thereof, that’s going to into it. Heading into this season, Sheahan wasn’t a lights-out shooter, but he managed to score with some consistency when he got pucks on net. In 2013-14, he shot at a bloated 15.3 percent, which corrected to 10.6 percent and 10.9 percent in the two subsequent seasons. That brought his career average to 11.6 percent, and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to do the math on what his clip is this year. His zero percent mark has brought his career shooting percentage down to an even nine, but if he was shooting at or even close to his career rate, Sheahan would have at least half a dozen goals by now.
It’s not as if he’s not getting the chances, either. Sheahan has hit the pipe once this season, according to NHL.com, and he’s generated 153 shot attempts. On top of that, Corsica lists Sheahan as having produced 37 individual scoring chances at all strengths. That’s not elite-level chance generation, but Sheahan is in the same company as Scott Hartnell, P-A Parenteau, Marian Gaborik and — no joke — Jack Eichel. Per Corsica’s expected goals statistic, Sheahan should be floating around eight or nine goals with the opportunities he’s produced. Again, he’s yet to score.
At some point, though, one would figure that Sheahan would catch a break. Be it a shot that careens off of his shin pads and in, a blast of his own that takes a strange bounce or fortunate deflection or even an empty netter, which at this point would be a gift. That it hasn’t happened is mind-boggling, especially with Sheahan’s proven ability to score at the NHL level.
That fact is he hasn’t scored, however, and the drought has become so painful for some Red Wings fans that a Twitter account was created to keep track of Sheahan’s hard luck. The account’s name is a play on the memorable “Did Gomez Score?” website that was popularized back when then-Montreal Canadiens center Scott Gomez went more than a calendar year without lighting the lamp. But here’s the thing: Gomez’s drought wasn’t even as bad as Sheahan’s.
Sure, Gomez took more shots on goal during his drought — he was over 100 shots by the time he finally scored — but his attempts were split across two seasons and 53 games. And if Sheahan happens to go the entire season without scoring, he, too, will have gone one year without a goal. The difference, however, will be that Sheahan will likely have taken more shots and registered fewer points if his drought stretches that long.
And even if Sheahan’s scoring struggle has become tough for fans to watch, it’s almost unfathomable the toll it must be taking on the player himself. So, with 17 games remaining in the season, here’s hoping Sheahan manages to find the back of the net at least once. Maybe then he can put this entire drought behind him.
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