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Patrick Sharp’s inability to finish costs him a spot in Blackhawks’ lineup

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You can only wait for regression so long.

NHL: Buffalo Sabres at Chicago Blackhawks Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

When it comes to figuring out why an NHL player is in a slump, shooting percentage is usually one of the first places to look. Those numbers can fluctuate wildly over shorter periods of time, so it’s important to be patient and not overreact when someone is shooting, but not scoring.

This season, the NHL leaguewide shooting percentage is 8.8 percent. It’s been between 8.5 and 9.2 percent for the past 10 years. Forwards tend to shoot a higher percentage than defensemen, and while certain players do have unique shooting skills, generally speaking, most players fall into a certain range.

This is important context when discussing Patrick Sharp, who earned a healthy scratch Thursday night against the Stars by recording just three goals in the first 33 games of the season. In a more standard case, you’d point to his shooting percentage — a paltry 4.2 percent — and suggest that a wave of goals is in his future. Surely he won’t continue shooting such a low percentage in a league where the average shooter scores nearly nine percent of the time.

But there’s some bad news when it comes to Sharp, and it’s that his finishing ability appears to have significantly declined over the past few years. Once a premier scorer who recorded four different seasons with at least 33 goals, he’s recorded just 47 goals in 225 games over the past three-plus years.

And while Sharp is undeniably a player in decline in many ways, including a 5-on-5 SOG rate that’s dripped from 11.8 per 60 minutes in his prime to just 8.8 per 60 this season, his inability to finish scoring chances is the biggest thing that stands out. It’s the main reason he’s being healthy scratched.

Here’s a fun stat: Among 258 NHL forwards with at least 200 games played since 2014-15, Sharp is tied for last in shooting percentage, according to Hockey-Reference’s Play Index. Nobody in the league has played as much while struggling to convert scoring chances.

And more than anything, this is why Sharp is being benched. Otherwise, his numbers aren’t that bad. The Hawks have posted a 51.9 percent 5-on-5 Corsi with him on the ice. His expected goals percentage of 49.7 percent and Game Score/60 of 1.62 are not last on the team in either category, according to Corsica.

Every once in a while, you see that old Sharp, making a beautiful stride to get a beat on an opponent. But just as often, you’ll see him fail to take advantage of that opportunity by making a soft shot into the goalie’s belly. Despite having 5.12 expected goals this season based on his shot history (eighth on the team), he’s only scored three times.

So now he’s being benched, and it’s not difficult to see why. The Hawks may like a lot of the things that Sharp still brings to the table at age 35, including an understanding of the system and positional reliability, but those things just don’t matter that much if you can’t make opponents pay in the end.