Friday, May 30, 2014
Consistency next step for Hawks' Saad
By Scott Powers
LOS ANGELES -- The question isn't whether Brandon Saad can perform like an elite player. It's whether he can sustain it.
The 21-year-old Saad has shown during his first two full seasons with the Chicago Blackhawks that at his best he's one of the game's brightest young stars. Where the issue has been for Saad so far is playing to that level consistently.
Brandon Saad delivered one of the most complete games of his career in Game 5 against the Kings.
To find Saad's upside, you don't have to look any further than his last game. With the Blackhawks facing elimination against the Los Angeles Kings in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals on Wednesday, Saad delivered one of the most complete games of his career. He had one goal, two assists, seven shots on net, three hits, three takeaways, two blocked shots, was a plus-4 and won 4-of-8 faceoffs. He also perfectly set up Michal Handzus for the game-winning goal in the second overtime.
Saad, of course, was pleased with his night.
"I feel that was one of the best games I ever played on one of the biggest stages," Saad said Thursday. "It was nice to help the team win in an elimination game. I'm looking forward to going forward."
And that's where the question comes in. What will Saad do in Game 6 on Friday, if the series continues to Game 7 or in the Stanley Cup finals if the Blackhawks advance that far? Will he play with that same power, speed and puck dominance? Or will he disappear?
Saad has done both in his career. When he's hot, he can pile up points. He had 11 multi-point games in the regular season. Those 11 games accounted for 24 total points. But in his other 67 regular-season games, he had 23 points. All together, he recorded points in 34 of 78 regular-season games.
Saad had seven points in March and April combined. Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville made him a healthy scratch for one game in April because he wasn't happy with Saad's play. Saad finished the season with 19 goals and 28 assists.
Saad's three-point game on Wednesday was his third this season and the fifth of his career. Quenneville would like to see even more of that.
"He was amazing [Wednesday]," Quenneville said. "I thought he's had some games like that over the course of the season where he takes it to a different level. Young kid, consistency, putting it all together, that's what we're looking for.
"But he has that ability to play a high-level game, almost like an impact player. Throughout the league, not too many guys that can make an impact on a game like he did last night. He has that ability, which was great last night, that consistency we look for. He had one of those games you always remember."
Saad is having the best playoff series of his career. He had 14 points in his 37 playoff games prior to the Western Conference finals. He's had six points in five games against the Kings in the current series. He had a goal and an assist in Game 1 and a goal in Game 4.
"I feel good," Saad said. "The more you go through things, the better you feel. Going through the playoffs last year, I'm feeling comfortable, confident. That definitely helps in your game."
How Saad played Wednesday is how he'd like to play all the time, but he understands that will be a challenge.
"That's the game I want to play consistently every night," Saad said. "It's tough to do. I want to play that way, skating hard. Hopefully the production comes every night."