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Blackhawks

The Blackhawks loaded up the first two lines to open the season in an effort to jumpstart the offense, and they've certainly gotten that with 18 goals through four games.

Ten of those goals have come from the top line of Alex DeBrincat, Dominik Kahun and Jonathan Toews. Four of them have come from Patrick Kane, with Nick Schmaltz recording just as many assists.

Brandon Saad, on the other hand, has one point through four games playing on the second line. He had two prime scoring chances in the third period of Thursday's 4-3 overtime loss to the Minnesota Wild, which included a breakaway. But much like a year ago, he's not getting the results.

Saad was demoted to the fourth line during Friday's practice playing alongside David Kampf and Marcus Kruger, while rookie Alexandre Fortin jumped into that left wing spot next to Kane and Schmaltz after an impressive debut.

Asked what he's looking for from Saad, coach Joel Quenneville didn't hesitate.

"More," he said. "With [Fortin] going to that line, he brings that speed. I thought he had some good things we saw last night that he can bring to the team. 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."

 

But Saad doesn't necessarily see it as a demotion.

"I think it's just having balance throughout the team," he said. "We have a lot of good players. Just because I'm in that role, we want to play well defensively, but also I think we can contribute with a lot of offensive plays too. We're all skilled players and all got a knack for the net, so I don't see us shy of scoring any goals."

Still, zero goals through four games can't sit well a player of his caliber especially when you consider he scored six goals through the first six games last season and still finished with only 18 across 82 games.

"You always want to produce and help the team win," Saad said. "The biggest thing for me is playing both ends of the ice, but obviously you want to produce as well. I've always had pretty good success at that. Not the top of the league, but still enough to contribute to win hockey games. That's the type of player I want to be and obviously it's been a little bit of a slow start, but I think I've had some positive things and you've just got to keep improving."

The challenge with this entire situation is that there's no doubt Saad is more effective when playing in a top-six role with offensively skilled players. But the Blackhawks have no choice but to send a message when the production simply hasn't been there. It would also send the wrong message to the team by continuing to reward a player with more ice time when somebody else may be more deserving of it for the time being.

For better or worse, Saad hasn't changed his mindset one way or the other and won't going forward, no matter what his role may be.

"Regardless of where you're at, you can't change your attitude or mindset," Saad said. "You've got to come to work every day and have that success.

"When we're winning, it's pretty easy to stay positive. But obviously with losing like last night, it's definitely tough and something you think about a little bit more. At the end of the day, it's just coming to work every day, improving every day and just keep doing what you're doing."