Blackhawks: Don’t be sad for youngster Saad
BY MARK LAZERUS Sun-Times Media February 3, 2013 8:48PM
Hawks rookie Brandon Saad hasn’t found the scoresheet yet, but coach Joel Quenneville praised his play Friday against the Canucks. | Getty Images
Updated: March 5, 2013 6:32AM
SAN JOSE, Calif. — Brandon Saad is not a terribly showy sort of guy. On the ice, he doesn’t chirp or taunt. Off the ice, he’s quiet and pleasant, his quotes milquetoast and predictable.
So when the Blackhawks rookie finally scores a goal, don’t expect him to hurl himself down the ice in giddy celebration, the way Edmonton Oilers rookie Nail Yakupov famously did last week. But at this point, after this many chances, who could blame him if he did?
“He’s hungry for that first one,” captain and linemate Jonathan Toews said. “He’s going to get it.”
Saad has come achingly close to that first career goal several times this season. In fact, in a couple of games — at Dallas and at Vancouver — he might have been the best player in a Hawks sweater. Against the Canucks, coach Joel Quenneville said Saad was “a monster around the puck.” He was leading the rush, crashing the net, creating turnovers, drawing penalties and generally making everything happen.
Everything but goals, that is. Somehow, despite playing at a high level for most of the season and despite playing alongside two world-class players in Toews and Marian Hossa, Saad hasn’t scored yet. He hasn’t even managed an assist. It has been baffling, and even the mild-mannered Saad is starting to find it frustrating.
“Definitely, at times it is,” he said. “But our whole line, we’ve been playing well as a whole. The chemistry’s getting better and better every game, so it’s only a matter of time before we break out.”
Saad thought he finally did in the first period Friday at Vancouver. He crashed the net and got the puck to trickle through Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo. But the referee’s view of the puck was blocked, and the whistle was blown when the puck was just about to cross the goal line. Saad did draw a penalty — one of two he drew in the game — but the Hawks didn’t score on the power play.
It was Saad’s season in a nutshell. He shrugged it off as “unlucky, just one of those things” and focused on the positive: If he keeps coming close, he must be doing something right.
“You want goals, go to the net,” he said. “That’s a good way to get them. Unfortunately, they haven’t come yet. But it’s only a matter of time.”
With precious little practice time in the compressed season, Toews and Hossa have been in Saad’s ear on and off the ice, helping with preparation and strategy but also preaching patience. Saad — the Hawks’ second-round pick in 2011, who played two regular-season and two playoff games last season — barely made the roster out of training camp and backed into one of the premier lines in the league when Daniel Carcillo was hurt in the season opener. He’s still an unproven rookie, and his job is always on the line.
But Quenneville has raved about him and rewarded him with some power-play time against the Canucks. His linemates have praised him for his work ethic and hustle. And Saad himself feels he’s playing at a high level that matches his lofty spot in the lineup.
So he feels safe. And he feels productive. He just would like to have the numbers to back that up.
“It’s something I’m looking forward to,” he said. “Just got to keep working hard.”