Brandon Saad’s benching the least of Blackhawks’ worries
BY MARK LAZERUS Staff Reporter April 8, 2014 10:03PM
CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 3: Brandon Saad #20 of the Chicago Blackhawks walks out to the ice prior to the NHL game against the Minnesota Wild on March 03, 2014 at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Bill Smith/NHLI via Getty Images)
The facts: 6:30 p.m., CSN, 720-AM.
Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville didn’t sit Brandon Saad down and have a long talk about what the winger needs to do, what areas of the game he needs to improve upon or even why, exactly, he was scratched Sunday to begin with.
‘‘Pretty short talk,’’ Saad said. ‘‘Just refocus, get ready and get back in the lineup.’’
That’s because there was nothing blatantly wrong with the way Saad was playing of late. Yes, his production has been nearly nonexistent — no goals and one assist in nine games — but his possession numbers and his defensive game have been mostly solid. Mostly.
Quenneville just saw an occasional dip in the effort and wanted to send a quick message before it became a larger problem.
‘‘He has pretty high standards of comparing his game to some guys,’’ Quenneville said. ‘‘And that consistency we’re accustomed to seeing was sporadic. Sometimes you’re not productive at the rate you’re normally accustomed to being at, but you still have to find ways to participate in our team game. He wasn’t at the level that he wants to see or we want to see.’’
That the standard is so high for a second-year player is a testament to just how good Saad has been. It’s also why the veterans haven’t been exactly rushing to his side to talk him through his first benching.
It’s just not needed.
‘‘I have 10 years on Saader, so I feel like I’ve been through a few situations like that before,’’ Patrick Sharp said. ‘‘Early in my career, I was a healthy scratch quite a bit with [the Philadelphia Flyers]. I’ve been down that road before, but I wasn’t as good as Saader was at that age — he’s got that on me, for sure. He’s more mature than I was. There’s not a whole lot that I can say to Saader that he doesn’t already know. He’s already a true professional who’s played 100-some games in his career. He’s not on the radar at all — we’re not worried about him at all.’’
Saad will be back in the lineup Wednesday night when the Hawks host the Montreal Canadiens in their last home game of the regular season. While he’s hardly alone in having a few off shifts over the last few weeks, and has been dealing with different linemates on a near-nightly basis with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane out, Saad called the benching ‘‘a wake-up call’’ and ‘‘a reality check.’’
‘‘You’ve been playing well, but you can always be better,’’ he said. ‘‘As a young guy, it’s something that [Quenneville] teaches well, and that’s why young players have success here, because he expects the most out of them and for them to play well.’’
Saad’s spot in the lineup is not at all in jeopardy, so he chose to look ahead to the last three games of the season and the playoffs rather than dwell on Sunday. At this point last year, Saad had no idea what he was getting into. And while he didn’t have a ‘‘welcome to the playoffs’’ kind of moment, he said he definitely noticed an uptick in the pace and intensity of the games.
He had a goal and five assists in 23 playoff games, largely on the third line after Bryan Bickell took his spot on the top line. Saad expects that experience to pay off this time around.
‘‘You can hear as much as you want about it, but until you go through it, [you don’t know],’’ he said. ‘‘You feel much more comfortable the second time around. So I’m looking forward to finishing strong here this week and getting into the playoffs.’’
Quenneville is counting on it.
‘‘He’s a big part of our team,’’ he said. ‘‘He’ll be useful as we go along here, and it’s [just] one game. Let’s move on and be excited about the next game.’’