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Blackhawks want, and need, more from Brandon Saad

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The Chicago Blackhawks were a popular preseason pick to finish in last place in the Central Division. They were coming off a down year, had an uncertain goaltending situation with Corey Crawford still sidelined, and the roster has its share of holes on paper. Through the first four games of the season, however, the Blackhawks are off to a better than expected started, gaining at least a point in each game with a 2-0-2 record.

The biggest reason for the fast start has been Jonathan Toews‘ discovery of the fountain of youth as he looks to bounce back from a down year, as well as the continued development of Alex DeBrincat. That duo, along with Patrick Kane, has carried the Blackhawks’ offense through the first four games and allowed them to overcome some sub-par defense and more bad goaltending.

[Related: Blackhawks should get used to winning ugly]

Eventually they are going to need more from someone that isn’t one of Toews, DeBrincat or Kane. One player at the top of that list is veteran forward Brandon Saad, who has not only not given them much yet this season, but seems to have been demoted to the fourth-line based on Friday’s practice lines.

Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville simply said that the team needs to see more from him.

Here is what Quenneville had to say on Friday, via NBC Chicago’s Charlie Roumeliotis.

“Saad needs a little bit more consistency with the puck. Losing pucks, we want to make sure, if you are going to lose it, there’s still another level of keeping the puck and not ending it there in that situation. That’s one area he can be better.

“But I still think there’s production there. He’s had some looks. We’re looking for more of the finished product, as we saw those situations come up last year, as well. Krugs’ line always seems to generate something. That line can have more of a purpose defensively and can be an effective line because they usually get some top lines and sometimes they can be exposed in some situations.”

Saad’s career has been a strange one because there is obviously enormous potential with him, but it hasn’t always panned out as expected.

He ended up falling in his draft class, going from at one point a projected top-five pick, all the way down to the back end of the second round following a down year in his draft year. When he first arrived in Chicago he became a key part of a Stanley Cup winning team and looked to be an emerging star in the league. But a salary cap crunch saw him sent him to Columbus after that championship season where he signed a long-term contract. It was at that point that his production leveled off and he eventually found himself back in Chicago prior to the 2017-18 season in exchange for Artemi Panarin.

At the time, the Blackhawks were coming off of a second straight disappointing first-round exit and had some long-term concerns about their ability to re-sign Panarin and fit him under the salary cap.

That resulted in the reunion between the two sides.

Just a little more than one year into it and it is not going well.

While Panarin continued to be an impact player in Columbus, Saad had the worst season of his career in his return to the Blackhawks only 18 goals and 35 total points in 82 games, while somehow managing just a single point on the power play despite logging more than 174 minutes on the man-advantage.

His lack of production and his play did not go unnoticed.

Before the season started The Athletic‘s Scott Powers (sub. required) quoted two anonymous NHL scouts giving scathing reviews of Saad’s play, including one that said, “I think Saad is a guy who plays for a contract. I’m not convinced that he’s a guy who plays for you every night.”

Harsh.

And now, just four games into the season with only a single point and seven shots on goal on the stat sheet, he finds himself skating on the fourth line.

Saad is better than this, and while his 2017-18 numbers were a spectacular disappointment (especially in comparison to what the guy he was traded for did) but there were still signs he could have been better and should be able to bounce back. He was an elite possession player, and you have to think that power play production almost has to get better even if he just stood there and did nothing (one power play point in 174 minutes!).

If the Blackhawks are going to bounce back this season and be better than expected there are three players that have to drive that bus: A healthy Corey Crawford, Jonathan Toews, and Saad. They are getting it so far from Toews, and they are hopeful Crawford can return this week.

Now they just need to get something — anything, really — from Saad.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

The Buzzer: Stars Wars Storm Surge; Bob beats Blue Jackets

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Three Stars

1. Sebastian Aho, Carolina Hurricanes

Heading into Saturday, Aho only scored in one goal (a goal and an assist) in his past five contests. He made up for that dry spell in a big way against the Wild, generating a hat trick plus two assists.

His third goal was an empty-netter, but Aho’s first tally ended up being the game-winner. Aho was really clicking with Teuvo Teravainen, who finished the night with three assists.

Aho now has 27 points through his first 30 games in 2019-20.

2. Alex Killorn, Tampa Bay Lightning

The Lightning made life miserable for the Sharks on Saturday, feasting by way of a 7-1 score.

Killorn was a big part of that, generating a goal and three assists for four points. Killorn now has three goals and three assists for six points during a three-game streak, giving Killorn 22 points in 25 games in 2019-20.

As effective as Killorn has been over the years, his career-high is 47 points. Chances are, he’s going to slow down (example a 15.7 shooting percentage so far this season, against a 10.5 career average), but if reasonably healthy, Killorn should blow that previous number out of the water.

There were other Lightning players who played really well, as you’d expect from a blowout. Steven Stamkos ranked among those who collected three points, while Andrei Vasilevskiy made 37 saves to exaggerate the distance between the two teams.

3. Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins

Really, you can take your pick between Malkin and Jake Guentzel, as they both enjoyed one-goal, two-assist nights on Saturday, and they both clearly play off each other quite well. As much as Guentzel has been conjoined to Sidney Crosby during his young (and underappreciated) career, it seems like he can click with Malkin, too. Obviously, it’s not difficult to transition from one “NHL 100” player to another who should have made the “NHL 100,” yet … we’ve seen wingers who cannot find chemistry with one or more of Malkin and Crosby. So credit to Guentzel for being deadly with both, and likely making life a little easier for each of them.

Malkin now has a fantastic 26 points in just 19 games, and may very well have his biggest year in a while if he can stay healthy — an uncomfortably familiar phrase for the Penguins for quite some time. (Heck, even spanning back to Mario Lemieux.)

Guentzel now has 31 points in 30 games, and a solid chance to exceed last season’s excellent career-high of 76 points.

Highlight of the Night

Uh, you think the Kings were expecting Johnny Gaudreau to pass when he did? (Don’t lie.) This is just a tremendous combination of speed, skill, and vision as he set up Sean Monahan:

Star Wars Storm Surge

Yay or nay on the Star Wars-themed Storm Surge from the Hurricanes? I’d say solid enough, although it lacked a Bunch of Baby Yoda so … maybe not ideal.

Factoids

  • The Blue Jackets spoiled Sergei Bobrovsky‘s shutout bid a bit more than halfway through the third period. Still, Bob had a strong night with 33 saves. Hot take: Columbus is still probably relieved to not be spending to the tune of Bob’s $10M AAV, considering how infrequently Bob has looked this good.
  • NHL PR notes that the Avalanche extended a point streak to 14 games, while they also gave the Bruins their first regulation loss at home this season.
  • Brady Tkachuk received a fine from the Department of Player Safety for cross-checking Scott Laughton. More on that wild game here.
  • A bit esoteric, but interesting, from NHL PR: Jack Eichel and Connor McDavid are the fifth pair to generate at least 300 points each in 320 games or fewer. They’re the first pairing to pull that off since Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin.

Scores

PHI 4 – OTT 3
VAN 6 – BUF 5 (OT)
COL 4 – BOS 1
PIT 5 – DET 3
TBL 7 – SJS 1
FLA 4 – CBJ 1
CAR 6 – MIN 2
TOR 5 – STL 2
NSH 6 – NJD 4
DAL 3 – NYI 1
CGY 4 – LAK 3

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

P.K. Subban gets a warm tribute during his return to Nashville

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It would have been silly for Nashville Predators fans to boo P.K. Subban during his return to “Smashville.”

Subban didn’t choose to be traded from Montreal to Nashville, and he didn’t elect to be sent from Nashville to the New Jersey Devils, either.

Sports fans aren’t always so rational, though. Really, it makes sense: spending so much money, time, and emotional energy on a game isn’t exactly the most rational thing to do. So there was some concern about how Subban would be received, especially since he’s already booed in an honestly uncomfortably large number of NHL arenas already.

Subban and others can breathe a sigh of relief, though, as while not everyone greeted Subban with open arms in as literal a way as Roman Josi did with their hug on Saturday, the team gave Subban a fantastic welcome back tribute video:

Not only does that video include some of Subban’s great moments during his three seasons with the Predators (that Stanley Cup Final appearance, a Norris Trophy win), it also captures some of the off-the-ice qualities that make Subban so fun and entertaining (and make people sometimes get perplexingly, maybe troublingly mad about him). He got up and decided to sing some Johnny Cash upon arriving in Nashville, was a fantastic charitable presence, and was a lot of fun.

(No Listerine was spilled in the making of the ad, but you can’t have it all.)

Anyway, good on the Predators and their fans for welcoming P.K. back.

As a reminder, Montreal Canadiens fans greeted him with love upon his return, too:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Avs’ rising star Cale Makar shaken by hit from Bruins’ Marchand

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The Colorado Avalanche have done a masterful job, for the most part, when it comes to rolling with injury-related punches to key players such as Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog. They have to hope that Saturday didn’t send another such haymaker their way.

Rising star defenseman Cale Makar (who just fell under a point per game on Saturday with 28 in 29 contests) was clearly shaken up by a hard hit by Boston Bruins forward Brad Marchand.

It didn’t seem like a heinous hit by Marchand, although there are some who wonder if it was a bit high.

Either way, Makar’s reaction is troubling. You can see him shake his head multiple times following the hit, which gives the impression that he could have suffered a concussion. That doesn’t guarantee that Makar did, but it’s a situation to watch — and one the Avalanche should absolutely be careful about.

The Avalanche ended up beating the Bruins 4-1 on Saturday.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Laila Anderson, bone marrow donor attend Blues game

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If it got a “little dusty” at the Enterprise Center in St. Louis on Saturday, that’s understandable, because the continued story of Laila Anderson meeting Kenton Felmlee, her bone marrow donor, is sure to make most get a case of heightened allergies.

(Is that a leak from the ceiling? /Sobs)

Anyway, Felmlee was Anderson’s guest during Saturday’s Toronto Maple Leafs – St. Louis Blues game, giving the two another chance to bond, and beyond that, for Anderson to thank Felmlee for helping her in her battle with the rare immune disease HLH.

It’s great stuff, even if the actual Blues game isn’t going so great for St. Louis.

This longer clip from their first meeting earlier this week is worth watching, unless you don’t want people to see you openly weeping’n’stuff:

(Personally, I’d say it’s worth it.)

MORE ON LAILA ANDERSON AND THE BLUES:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.