Updated: January 8, 2014 11:12PM
Bryan Bickell snapped off a nice pass to a surging Andrew Shaw in the neutral zone, then worked his way behind the net, where he won a quick battle and wheeled a centering pass through the slot.
There was nobody crashing the net, and nothing came of it. But it was a decent, purposeful shift for Bickell. It wasn’t the stuff of legends, or playoff heroism, or $16 million contracts. It wasn’t much at all. But it was something.
And, at this point, that’s all Bickell’s looking for. Something.
“Sometimes, when things aren’t going your way, you’ve got to find a way where you’re doing something well,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “For him, he can bump and he can bang and he can go to the net. He’s got a nice shot, as well. Just go up and down your wing and do a little bit more as you go along.”
This is what it has come to for Bickell, who was benched for the third period and overtime of Sunday’s shootout loss to the Sharks — Quenneville’s way of telling Bickell that his play over the 10 games since he returned from a left knee injury simply isn’t good enough.
Bickell only has a goal and an assist since returning Dec. 17 at Nashville. He was a minus in five of six games entering Wednesday night’s game against the Rangers. He had no shots on goal the previous two games. And he’s not throwing his weight around — he had no hits on Long Island, one against the Sharks and none against the Rangers.
There are plenty of reasons for Bickell’s struggles. He’s clearly not at 100 percent physically, and the bulky knee braces he’s wearing — he already had one on his right knee from offseason knee surgery — have him moving a step slower.
But more than anything, Bickell’s playing timid. Hesitant. And his game is built on power and aggression. Bickell knows this and said he got Quenneville’s message loud and clear.
“I’ve been struggling of late,” Bickell said. “He knows I have more, and I know I have more. The confidence level is not there. I’m not confident, and he’s not confident to put me on the ice, so I’ve got to work extra on the ice during practice to get better and to get my game where it was.”
Where it was in the spring, that is. Aside from a four-game goal-scoring streak in October, Bickell has struggled to regain the form he had in the playoffs, when he broke out with nine goals and eight assists, earning a spot on the top line and a four-year, $16 million contract.
But more than halfway through the season, Bickell has only six goals and two assists. And while Quenneville admitted he hasn’t given Bickell much of a chance to produce at that rate since he returned, giving him 10 minutes or less of ice time most nights, Bickell knows he hasn’t earned the high minutes he had in the playoffs, either.
But Bickell doesn’t think he set the bar too high last spring.
“No, I think I can do that,” he said. “Playing those minutes, you’re going to have an opportunity to do so. I was thankful to be in that [role]. But I’ve got to have that mind-set every game, every shift, like I did before.”
It starts with the little things. A big hit here. A heavy shot there. A quality net-front screen here. A successful puck battle in the corner there. Bickell knows he won’t get his confidence — and his game, and his minutes — back overnight. But he also firmly believes he’ll get there eventually.
“I’ve got to work around it and be smarter, do simpler plays, not make high-risk plays, which I’ve been doing,” he said. “I need to simplify that picture; I need to make it smaller. It’s a little too big right now.”