Maybe Brandon Saad will try his hand at defense next.
“Goalie after that,” he said. “We’ll see.”
The Saad World Tour continues tonight against the New York Islanders, as the second-year forward — who spent much of training camp at center for the first time in his life — flips from the left wing to the right wing on the Blackhakws’ third line. Marcus Kruger, usually the fourth-line center, will be on the left with Andrew Shaw and Saad.
“Growing up, I played both sides and I’m pretty comfortable at both,” Saad said. “Marcus is more comfortable on the left, so we’re trying me out there. [Hawks coach Joel Quenneville] seems to be mixing and matching things.”
Indeed, Quenneville’s mad line scientist tendencies are surfacing again as he tries to find the right combinations on his bottom two lines. Rookie Joakim Nordstrom will move from right wing to his natural center spot on the fourth line, between Brandon Bollig and Ben Smith.
“Just trying some things,” Quenneville said. “It’s not that we don’t like the way things are going. Just maybe trying to have a different look. Maybe it’ll be improved.”
The early adjustment period on the bottom two lines was inevitable. For all the talk about how the Hawks brought nearly everyone back from last season’s Stanley Cup champion squad, the fact is they lost three key veterans — third-line right wing Viktor Stalberg, occasional third- and fourth-line center Dave Bolland and fourth-line right wing Michael Frolik. With Smith, Nordstrom and Jimmy Hayes coming in and other players being moved around to fill those holes, it wasn’t going to be an easy transition.
“That’s a lot of shoes to fill there,” said Shaw, who skated on the wing at Thursday’s practice before moving back to center at Friday’s morning skate. “Obviously there are a couple different guys in the lineup. It’s going to take a couple games to find some chemistry and see who works with whom best, and Joel and the coaching staff know what they’re going. We’re just going to keep going out there and keep plugging away.”
Said Kruger: “It’s going to take time. We’re only three games in. Guys are playing with new players every day, so it’s probably going to take a while, but I think we’re going to figure it out. Everyone here is a good player, so it’s just about finding chemistry.”
Saad has been one of the Hawks’ best players through the first three games, with two goals and two assists. But neither he nor Quenneville is concerned about disrupting his rhythm.
“It doesn’t really matter what side,” Saad said. “It takes a little adjustment handling pucks and things off the boards, but as far as playing’s concerned, I feel comfortable.”
And, of course, with Quenneville’s famously itchy trigger finger, the latest lines might not last very long, either.
“We’re probably going to switch around,” Kruger said. “Nothing new, really.”
In other news, Michal Rozsival will be back in the lineup tonight, paired with Nick Leddy. Michael Kostka and Sheldon Brookbank each got a turn in that spot over the last two games. Quenneville said he was pleased with how all three played, and that there’s no set plan to distribute playing time yet.
“It’s like the forwards situation,” he said. “Everybody’s been good enough where we’re pleased with everyone in all situations. It’s healthy as far as that goes. We’re still sorting out the match ups not he back end, as well. That will play out eventually, but nobody’s hurt themselves.”
Both teams will be playing their backup goalies tonight, as the Hawks turn to Nikolai Khabibulin and the Islanders send out Kevin Poulin.
Bryan Bickell, Jonathan Toews, Patrick KanePatrick Sharp, Michal Handzus, Marian Hossa
Marcus Kruger, Andrew Shaw, Brandon Saad
Brandon Bollig, Joakim Nordstrom, Ben Smith