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Brandon Saad's second time around with Blackhawks nothing like the first

Paul Skrbina, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Hockey

Brandon Saad has been here and done that, having helped the Blackhawks win two Stanley Cups.

But the forward's second spin with the Hawks after two seasons with the Blue Jackets has been, in a word, different.

"In the past we'd always win our division, championships," Saad said. "It was tough to complain about things.

"Now it's a different look. We're in a different spot. A little adversity is good to get that competitiveness, be fighting toward the end. It gets the blood flowing."

Saad's return to the Hawks was triumphant. He posted a hat trick on opening night. He had a goal and an assist in the next game. He was playing on the top line with Jonathan Toews. The season had all the promise of yesteryear.

Until it didn't.

Those four goals in the first two games represent 30.8 percent of Saad's output in that department. He has scored only nine in 48 games since. The Hawks are in last place in the Central Division. They were four points and four teams out of the second Western Conference wild-card spot after their win Tuesday against the Predators.

"Kind of coasted our way (to the playoffs in the past)," Saad said. "I've seen the good side. ... With the Hawks, the way they run things, every time our back is against the wall, we seem to come up with something special. We're kind of in that situation."

Saad's also in a situation. Three times he has had stretches of at least six games without a point, including his current nine-game streak.

He has been moved from the top line to the second line with Patrick Kane and Nick Schmaltz, and he's on pace to score fewer than 40 points. His career low is 27, which came in 46 games during his rookie season.

It's not like he hasn't had opportunities. He has taken 148 shots, 27th in the league through Tuesday. His Corsi-for percentage in five-on-five situations was 58.67, third in the league.

And it's not like his line has been giving up a lot of goals, evident by him being among the leaders in goal differential.

"For the most part it's gone all right," Saad said when asked to assess his season.

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So what's wrong? Why isn't he making more of the scoring opportunities?

"I don't really know," he said. "There's always room for improvement, right? I've had some ups and downs, just like we've had as a team. You always want to be better. I want to produce more. We want to win more hockey games."

If the Hawks do, Saad's role in that figures to be prominent. That's partly why they traded Artemi Panarin to get him back.

In some ways Saad's play has been, in coach Joel Quenneville's estimation, a reflection of the Hawks' streaky season.

"Saader's kind of like our team," Quenneville said. "If we get to the net, around the net, and get some greasier goals, they can help your team game.

"If you're not scoring, find a way to get there and get some ugly goals. He has some speed and skill. But you want to have those second and third opportunities. ... You've got to be willing to get there."

Quenneville recently shifted Saad to play alongside Kane and Schmaltz with the hope he would be rejuvenated on the offensive end.

So far, the goals haven't been there.

"We went through a stretch ... where we weren't winning or productive," Quenneville said. "That's something we tried to ignite. In a short amount of time, they've had some decent looks. Haven't had the production there, but the balance in our lineup was better in our last few games."

(c)2018 Chicago Tribune

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