Brandon Saad was back in the four-line rotation on Tuesday, two days after he was a somewhat surprising healthy scratch. The message was a tough one for the Chicago Blackhawks left wing, but it was definitely received.
“It’s a wakeup call. It’s a reality check,” said Saad, who was on the second line with Michal Handzus and Kris Versteeg on Tuesday. “You’ve been playing well but you can always get better. It’s something (coach Joel Quenneville) teaches well, and that’s why young players have success here. He expects the most out of them, and for them to play well.”
So come Wednesday night, when the Blackhawks host the Montreal Canadiens in their regular-season home finale, Saad expects to be better. Quenneville expects him to be, too.
“He’s a big part of our team and I liked how he practiced today,” Quenneville said. “He gives us a lot of intangibles. He brings skill to our lineup, speed, he’s dangerous off the rush and is heavy in the puck area. He’ll be useful as we go along here and it’s one game. So let’s move on and be excited about tomorrow’s game.”
The 21-year-old has had a solid season but was quiet in recent outings. In seven games since returning from his upper-body injury, Saad had just one assist and was a minus-6. Saad said outside of maybe getting his timing back, he was unaffected by his injury in those games. Quenneville said Saad needs to get consistent again.
“He has pretty high standards of comparing his game to some guys, and that consistency we’re accustomed to seeing was sporadic. But you still have to find ways to participate in our team game,” Quenneville said. “He wasn’t at the level that he wants to see or we want to see. You just have to pick it up.”
Saad said the talk Quenneville had with him was short and to the point: “be focused, be ready.”
“The biggest thing is being competitive,” Saad said. “I have to bring that every night.”
Ben Smith said he talked to Saad after that Sunday game and said Saad handled the scratch very well.
“He’s only 21 but you think he’s 30. He’s a mature guy. He’s ready to get back to work and bring the other level that he has,” Smith said. “It’s a long season; everyone goes through ups and downs. It’s hard to be perfect for 82 games. It’s just one of those things where he’s going to regroup and he’ll be fine moving forward.”
Prior to his post-injury games, Saad was one of the most consistent of the Blackhawks this season. The scratch was tough to take; it would be for anyone who’s competitive, which Saad certainly is. But teammates say that Saad will respond the right way on Wednesday.
“Healthy scratches can be a wakeup call, but he’s been around long enough to know that he doesn’t have to go out and score four or five goals. He just needs to get back to his game,” Brandon Bollig said. “He’s a heck of a player and very valuable to us. He doesn’t have to do too much. He just has to keep it simple, and doing so will get him back to his game and being very effective for us.”