Blackhawks

Blackhawks: Brandon Saad faces new challenges with Blue Jackets

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Blackhawks: Brandon Saad faces new challenges with Blue Jackets

Brandon Saad lined up at center ice once again with Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa for the opening face-off on Saturday. Only this time he was across from them.

"It's different being on the other side," Saad said following a 4-1 loss to the Blackhawks.

The feeling wasn't any different for the Blackhawks, even though they didn't change sides.

"He's been a part of us for a few big years," Blackhawks forward Marian Hossa said. "Seeing him on the other side was weird."

[MORE: Brandon Saad returns to Chicago with 'a lot of emotions']

Corey Crawford, who stopped 22 shots in the win, echoed those sentiments after having to face Saad in a real game as opposed to a practice.

"It's tough," Crawford said. "We went to war with those guys, had a lot of good times. To see them move on is definitely hard, and a little weird too to see them in another jersey."

It was strange for everyone.

In fact, Blackhawks rookie Artemi Panarin accidentally skated to the Blue Jackets' side of the ice when coming out for the second period, and it makes you wonder if Saad even noticed.

Saad, who was traded to the Blue Jackets in the offseason due to salary cap restraints, spent his first four seasons with the Blackhawks, and played a large role in the team's 2013 and 2015 Stanley Cup runs.

Chicago didn't forget.

A sold-out United Center crowd of 21,563 sprinkled with red No. 20 jerseys gave Saad a standing ovation during a first period TV timeout as the Blackhawks welcomed back the two-time champion and thanked him for his services.

"That's always nice to have a standing [ovation] and have the support," Saad said. "I had a great time here. The fans are great here."

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

Following Saturday's loss, the Blue Jackets slipped to 0-6-0, their worst start in franchise history. That part hasn't been easy for Saad, who's still making the transition from a Stanley Cup winning team to one that's looking to one day get there.

"It's been tough. I've never been in a position like this before," he said. "It's something we've got to work out, it's a challenge we've got to embrace. It being my first time in this position, it's all new and all about learning, but it's something we've got to change here."

Saad returns to Columbus with the next two days off before they seek their first win on Tuesday, but isn't leaving Chicago without praising the Blackhawks for his time there.

"It's a great city, great organization to come back to to play against and it's always a fun building to play in," Saad said. "A lot of memories here."

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks hit road to face Blue Jackets

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NBC Sports Chicago

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks hit road to face Blue Jackets

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Columbus Blue Jackets tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. One big reunion.

The Blackhawks will square off with the Blue Jackets for the first time since Oct. 7, which was the second game of the season. In that game, they won 5-1 led by Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Brandon Saad, each of whom scored a goal and added an assist.

Of course, that was the first game since the offseason trade that sent Artemi Panarin to Columbus and Saad back to Chicago, along with Anton Forsberg. Artem Anisimov, of course, was part of the original deal that sent Saad to Columbus in 2015, so there are a lot of emotional ties between the two teams.

Forsberg didn't get a chance to face the Blue Jackets in the first meeting, but there's a chance he will this time with it being the second of a back-to-back and Jean-Francois Berube getting the start in Friday's 3-1 win over San Jose.

2. Panarin and Kane bromance.

The emotions of a difficult break-up have probably died down by now, but Panarin and Kane gave us this moment at center ice during pregame warmups in their first game against each other and it hit Chicago right in the feels:

Panarin has spent enough time apart from Kane for people to realize how big of a star he is in his own right, leading the Blue Jackets in all three scoring categories: goals (17), assists (32) and points (49).

He hasn't gone more than three games this season without recording a point, and is looking to extend his point streak to four games, which would tie a season high.

3. Struggling Blue Jackets special teams.

The Blue Jackets got off to a great start but are barely clinging onto a wild card spot going into Saturday's game, and a big reason for that slide is their lack of success on special teams. Usually one can pick up the slack for the other, but they've been brutal in both departments.

The Blue Jackets are 0-for-9 on the power play in their past five games and are ranked 31st overall, converting on only 14.1 percent of their opportunities. They also have own the 27th-ranked penalty kill with a 76.3 percent success rate.

So if there's an area the Blackhawks can exploit, it's that. But, you know, still be mindful of that Russian winger's one-timer from the faceoff circle.

Jean-Francois Berube impressed in his first Blackhawks start

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USA TODAY

Jean-Francois Berube impressed in his first Blackhawks start

Jean-Francois Berube got his first start of the season on Friday night, and it couldn't have gone any better.

The 26-year-old goaltender stopped 42 of 43 shots, a career-high for him in saves, in the Blackhawks' 3-1 win over the San Jose Sharks at the United Center.

Since Corey Crawford went down with a head injury last December, the Blackhawks have been searching for consistency in the crease. 

The pair of Anton Forsberg and Jeff Glass — who was assigned to Rockford on Feb. 15 and replaced with Berube — have had their ups and downs since then. With the Blackhawks out of the playoff picture, Berube had an opportunity showcase his skills, and he didn't disappoint.

"We were very happy with him," said coach Joel Quenneville. "I thought he did a great job. He was comfortable. I thought he was very patient in his net. Absorbing a lot of pucks with people in front of him was good. Closed some gaps and got … of the top of the paint. Rebound control was effective. Nice response from a long absence."

Berube's last — and only — appearance with the Blackhawks prior to Friday's game came on Dec. 6, relieving Forsberg in a game against the Washington Capitals. He recorded 12 saves of 14 shots. 

When Crawford got injured, Berube was the primary candidate to become the team's backup goaltender. The only problem? He was injured too, so the Blackhawks promoted Glass.

"I didn't want to sit and think about it," Berube said of his injury. "At the same time, it was great for Glasser. He was one of those guys that probably deserved it earlier in his career and he finally got his chance. Sometimes you need a guy to go down to have your chance. So I was mostly happy for him.

On Friday night, he got his chance.

"You always want to have a good impression for your first game," Berube said. "I know what I can do at this level, so it was just a matter of getting the opportunity to play and showing people what I can do."

Celebrating his 22nd birthday, Nick Schmaltz also had a goal and an assist. Artem Anisimov scored an empty-netter.

"It's a lot more fun coming to the rink when you're winning, enjoying each other, playing well as a team," Schmaltz said of the Blackhawks' win, which have now won three of their last four games. "Hopefully we can keep that good energy and bring it to the rink every day, and build off of that.

"You never know where this team can go, a lot of great players, lots of guys that have had a lot of success. Hopefully we can continue to put together solid efforts."