Brandon Saad returns to Chicago with 'a lot of emotions'


Brandon Saad returns to Chicago with 'a lot of emotions'

Brandon Saad walked down the United Center hallway, stopping several feet short of the home locker room and turning into the visitor’s room.

It was a strange feeling, for sure, but the former Blackhawks forward is happy to be back in the surroundings in which he found so much success.

“Flying in last night, having the day here today, it’s exciting for sure,” said the Columbus Blue Jackets forward. “There are a lot of emotions going but the biggest thing is just enjoying the process. I have a lot of good memories here.”

Saad entered the summer figuring he’d be making a lot more memories with the Blackhawks. But a funny thing happened on the way to a contract extension — he and the Blackhawks never got close on a number. So the Blackhawks traded him to Columbus for Artem Anisimov and Marko Dano. It was definitely a strange time for Saad.

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“It’s my first time going through something like that,” Saad recalled. “After having all that success, thinking one thing and then something else happens, there are definitely a lot of emotions and a pretty hectic 24 hours, 48 hours. At the end of the day it’s part of the business but it’s good to be back.”

Saad’s start with Blue Jackets was painful, as he took a puck to the mouth in late September. He said he feels a lot better now — “I look better too, so that’s good,” he said. But since the regular season began, he’s been performing as the Blue Jackets hoped he would. His three goals, tied for tops on the team, have all come on the power play. The Blue Jackets, however, aren’t doing so well. Columbus fell to 0-5-0 entering Saturday night’s game against the Blackhawks. Saad, who won two Stanley Cups with the Blackhawks, has become somewhat of a leader in his new locker room.

“I think he’s probably still adjusting a little bit; new city, new environment. But he’s been really good for our team,” Columbus coach Todd Richards said. “For me, it’s as simple as his body language at times. He’s attentive, he’s listening and then he goes out on the ice and the way he plays out on the ice, you can tell he’s come from an environment that’s used to winning, and how they do things.”

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As far as Saad becoming more of a leader for the Blue Jackets, Richards said, “he’s still getting his feet wet there, and that’s not an easy situation for him to come in and immediately get to the forefront of leadership. But I think he’s offered experiences that he’s already gone through as a young player that he can pass on to his teammates and a lot of it is what it takes to win on a consistent basis.”

Saad has gone through a lot of changes over the last few months, from being another potential member of the Blackhawks’ core to playing for a new team. Saad has the championship pedigree and a sizeable contract, and he could become a bigger leader for a team trying to find its way in this early going. It’s a lot of responsibility for him, but Saad is ready for it all.

“It’s a little of everything. Something I want to do is produce for the team but I also want to be a good leader,” Saad said. “It’s something that, coming in as a new guy and being young as well, it’s a new role for me. But it’s been great so far. I’m just looking to keep getting better.”

Four takeaways: Brandon Saad breaks out in strong bounce-back performance by Blackhawks

Four takeaways: Brandon Saad breaks out in strong bounce-back performance by Blackhawks

Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 3-1 win over the Anaheim Ducks at the United Center on Tuesday:

1. Brandon Saad's breakout game

After turning in one of his best efforts of the season on Sunday against Tampa Bay, the Blackhawks rewarded Saad with a promotion to the top-six again. And he took advantage of that opportunity.

In the first period alone, Saad recorded four shots on goal, scored his first of the season on the power play, drew a penalty and had a takeaway in 7:42 of ice time, which led all forwards. He finished with nine shot attempts (a season-high seven on goal) and 18:56 of ice time.

On his power-play goal, Saad battled for position in front of the net, called for the puck and scored on his second effort. He did all the right things and got rewarded, including on the empty-netter that sealed the victory.

"I've had some chances, especially as of late," Saad said. "But it's definitely nice for them to get in and get a win on top of that."

Said coach Joel Quenneville: "He was excellent tonight. ... I thought he had great speed all over the ice, had the puck way more. We’re happy for him. Big factor in the win."

2. Erik Gustafsson's slap-pass becoming a thing

For the second time this season, Gustafsson contributed to a game-winning goal that involved a fake shot and slap-pass from the point. Patrick Kane was the recipient of the cross-ice pass and buried home the one-timer from the right faceoff circle

"I can’t score by myself, so it’s better to pass it," Gustafsson joked. "No, I know Kaner is out there. He’s always getting open when someone else has the puck so it’s easy to find him and there was one guy in front of me so I wanted to pass it."

3. Blackhawks cut down on high-danger chances

On Sunday against Tampa Bay, the Blackhawks allowed 25 high-danger chances at even strength. It put them at the very bottom of the league for most on average per game, ironically falling below Anaheim.

Through two periods on Tuesday, the Blackhawks allowed zero and only five at 5-on-5 for the entire game. Certainly a 180 from two nights ago, and an area they will continue to build upon.

"We just took away those quality chances," said Corey Crawford, who made 24 saves and picked up his first win at home since Dec. 17, 2017. "I don't think they really had too many where they had time in front of the net to really think about where they wanted to shoot and our guys were on the right away in the middle of the ice and that'll give you a great chance to win a hockey game."

4. Special teams battle

There were a total of 20 penalty minutes (10 for Anaheim, 10 for Chicago), which meant lots of power play opportunities and not as much even-strength time.

The Blackhawks had four of them in the first period, and converted on the second try when Saad scored his first of the season. The penalty killed went 4-for-4, allowing a combined eight combined shots on goal but limiting the quality chances.

Blackhawks assign Anton Forsberg to Rockford after clearing waivers

Blackhawks assign Anton Forsberg to Rockford after clearing waivers

Anton Forsberg cleared waivers on Tuesday morning and was assigned to the Rockford IceHogs in the American Hockey League.

That's good news for the Blackhawks organizational depth chart, with Forsberg as the No. 3 in goal. But it also complicates things in Rockford, where Collin Delia and Kevin Lankinen have been sharing the duties.

Delia is 3-1-0 with a 3.26 goals against average and .910 save percentage while Lankinen is 0-1-1 with a 3.39 GAA and .825 save percentage. Perhaps the most likely scenario is Lankinen gets sent to the ECHL with the Indy Fuel while Delia and Forsberg split the load in Rockford.

It's certainly a good problem to have, but it's still unclear how that dynamic will play out.

"We haven’t talked about that," coach Joel Quenneville said. "But we expect [Forsberg] to play."

Luke Johnson recalled

With a spot opening up on the 23-man roster, Johnson is being brought back up after he was squeezed out by Corey Crawford's return. He had a goal and an assist in two games with Rockford.

Brandon Saad returns to top-six role

After turning in arguably his best performance of the season on Sunday, Saad is back playing on the second line with Artem Anisimov and Patrick Kane. He had seven shot attempts (three on goal) against Tampa Bay and led the team in 5-on-5 possession numbers.

"[Saad] is coming off a game where we liked what we saw," Quenneville said. "Playing with Kaner can help him get going."

Nick Schmaltz to play right side for first time in NHL career

Eight games into the season and Schmaltz has spent time at both center and left wing. Now he'll get a look on the right side with Alexandre Fortin on the left and David Kampf centering the third line.

Part of the reason for Schmaltz’s move to the right side was because Quenneville said they like Fortin on the left. It's not unfamiliar territory for Schmaltz, but could take some time getting used to.

"I played a little while back, not sure when," Schmaltz said "Just a little bit different. Catching pucks on your forehand now instead of your backhand. It's not a huge adjustment, just play with speed and compete hard and hopefully the skill on our line will take over."