Adam Henrique suffered an injury with Albany earlier this season that required surgery on his left thumb, but when he returned he was very productive. In his first seven games, he scored four goals and earned two assists. Unfortunately, Henrique has only produced one assist since those first seven games: a primary feed to Patrik Elias for a shorthanded goal last Thursday in Washington. He's currently mired in a scoring slump. As fans, it is a point of concern. With the Devils as a whole struggling to score goals in spots over the last two weeks, he's not alone. I am highlighting Henrique for a number of reasons.
First, his slump is an example of how bad luck can come suddenly after a run of good luck. Henrique didn't just return to the lineup, he made an impact in his first game of professional hockey in months. He scored a goal on his very first - and only - shot on net against the Islanders on January 31. It was an important goal as it was the game-tying score. Since that game, he scored another three goals on nine shots and earned two assists. As impressive as it was, no one shoots at 40% for long. Only in hindsight did we know when that ended and it didn't happen with a big event like an injury or a performance. The points just dried up without warning. It happens, but it's worth discussing.
Second, he's a top-six forward. He has averaged 17:10 this season, which his the sixth highest amount on the team with the currently injured Dainius Zubrus ahead of him. He plays in all situations so Henrique is a more important player to the team than others. This also means that when he's not getting on the scoresheet, it's more noticeable than than others too. It's also a bigger concern because it's not like Henrique's role or his skillset is easily replaceable by anyone, much less a team currently thin at forward like the Devils. So I'm more interested in discussing what's wrong with Henrique than, say, wondering what to do about the bottom six.
Third, I saw this quote from Henrique in this part of a Tuesday afternoon post by Tom Gulitti at Fire & Ice so I had the sophomore player on my mind:
Henrique includes himself among those who are looking to regain their confidence. He started out hot after returning from left thumb surgery, putting up four goals and two assists in his first seven games, but has no goals and just one assist in his last seven contests.
"I guess you can kind of see it through the whole team the last week or so," Henrique said. "It’s up and down. We’re not scoring, but we’ll get some chances. Then, the other team gets (a goal). For anybody, it’s up and down like that, but we know what we have to out there. We have to keep plugging away. We know what we have to do to be successful and get chances and good teams will come out of this, rebound, fix what needs to be fixed and move forward."
When a player or a team slumps, it is only natural that we look for a particular reason. When something is wrong, then there must be some reason why. The buzzword in this case is "confidence." For example, we heard it from Lou went Jacob Josefson was sent down after a run of lackluster performances over a week ago. Gulitti uses it here as a synonym for a lack of production. I don't doubt that Henrique, Josefson, and many other Devils would feel a lot better if they can score a bunch of goals to win a game. They are on 2-4-1 run in their last seven and have only scored 15 goals in that stretch, with five coming in one game alone. That's not a lot to be proud about. So I understand that thinking.
But I don't think it really gets into the slump or how to get out of it - at least not for Henrique. I find it curious that Henrique says he knows "what we have to do to be successful and get chances." Because I can point to one number that says otherwise: 17. As in, Henrique has 17 shots on net in 14 games. (By the by, this is the fourth reason I'm highlighting Henrique.) Henrique has had only one game where he had more than two shots on net this season and he's had two shotless games in his last seven games. In my mind, if he wants to snap that eight game goalless streak he currently has, then he's got to get more rubber on net unless he thinks his common one-shot game is going to convert eventually.
Now I understand that Henrique wasn't a big shooter last season; but his 130 shots in 74 games represents a 1.75 shot per game average. He's currently at 1.21 per game. I also understand he's played most of those games with the usually-shoot-first-and-ask-questions-later David Clarkson, so he may be the set-up man. But he's also been with Patrik Elias, a playmaker in his own right, and he has generated 42 shots in 19 games this season. Stefan Matteau has been limited when active and scratched, but even he has more shots than Henrique.
In his defense, Henrique isn't an anvil slowing the Devils down. Again, the coaches have been playing him in a lot of different situations so they're comfortable with what he can do off the puck. According to Behind the Net's even strength stats, he has been a very positive Corsi forward this season, one of the better ones on the team. When he's on the ice, the play's going forward. Additionally, it's not resulting in so many goals so that has hurt his potential for picking up assists at evens. He's been on the ice for exactly six goals at evens and three of them were by him. The team's shooting percentage when he's on the ice is 7.75%, which isn't that a low of a percentage but it's worse than, say, the team's assist-leader Elias. While Henrique has been shifted around the lineup as of late, even with Elias and Clarkson, they weren't lighting the lamp as they carried the play at evens. Combine that with the power play being feast-for-famine and the penalty kill bleeding goals and so the tepid production in 5-on-5 really does impact Henrique's (and others').
Yet, there's only so much that can be done. The coaches could stand to give Henrique easier zone starts as he has the lowest offensive zone start percentage among Devils forwards at evens with 37.5% (only Adam Larsson has a lower percentage on the whole team). But putting him in more favorable positions is going to lead to more positive results if only two events happen. Either a teammate(s) gets hot and he reaps the rewards through his passes or Henrique himself fires some pucks in. He can only keep trying at the former and that does depend on who Peter DeBoer decides to line up with him. I don't think chemistry is that big of an issue since Henrique has played with most of the other Devils and they know what each other can do. If they don't after 100+ games, then the team may have bigger problems. I also don't think his teammates will be just as cold as Henrique so in time, this may correct itself with respect to Henrique.
Henrique is more directly responsible for the "firing" part of that second possibility. Henrique isn't suddenly going to score goals, I don't know when he will. But given that shots are a necessary part of scoring, he could stand to be a little more selfish, keep the puck, and just let it rip. I want him to shoot his way out of his recent lack of production. At a minimum getting shots will keep the play in the right end of the rink and keep pressure on the opposition, something the Devils haven't been consistently good at in recent games. I doubt Henrique is so unfortunate and snake-bitten that he'll sit on four goals forever; but he could speed up the process by making the other goalie do work himself. It won't be immediate but it's a more proactive approach than waiting for help or hoping what currently hasn't been producing suddenly starts. I don't see how it doesn't build the confidence that has apparently been lost before a goal comes along to lift it up further.
Until either or both happens, we will wait. And you could apply this logic to some of the other Devils who haven't been featured on the scoresheet. Again, I had Henrique on the mind for a number of reasons so I focused on him. What do you think Henrique needs to do to get back to putting up points? Do you agree he needs to generate more shots? Do you think not quite right and he should do something else? Do you think he's doing just fine and the points will come? Who else on the Devils do you think needs to shootmore? Given that the Devils as a team are averaging 26.8 shots per game, among the five worst teams in the league, maybe it's everyone not named Clarkson and Kovalchuk? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about slumps, shooting, and Henrique in the comments. Thank you for reading.