Blackhawks’ snakebitten Brandon Saad still waiting for the floodgates to open

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Brandon Saad squeaked into the lineup Thursday against the Coyotes. (Getty Images)

The review of Brandon Saad’s goal 11 seconds into the Blackhawks’ game Thursday in Winnipeg took several minutes, but Saad already had his mind made up by the time he got to the bench and learned the Jets were challenging that the play was offside.

A wry, sardonic smile crept across Saad’s face as he looked up at the replay.

‘‘I was sure it was coming back,’’ Saad said with a chuckle. ‘‘That’s the way it’s been going.’’

Turns out the hockey gods were with Saad that night. Jonathan Toews sure looked offside, but the replay wasn’t conclusive enough to overturn the goal. It was a rare good break for Saad in a season that broke bad months ago.

Perhaps no player has been more emblematic of the Hawks’ frustrating season than Saad. He’s underperforming. He’s getting paid a lot of money. And he constantly thinks he’s on the verge of breaking through but is constantly unable to do so.

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The puck always takes a funny bounce off his stick, a goalie makes a spectacular stop or he just flubs the opportunity. Or, like against the Avalanche on March 6, he has a goal overturned after a review. The goal against the Jets is the only one Saad has scored in his last 14 games. He has only three in his last 32 games.

‘‘He’s had an abnormally tough year when it comes to having A-plus chances and not having the finish,’’ coach Joel Quenneville said. ‘‘He’s around the net. [Saturday against the Sabres] was a good example — three or four times, all alone. So he’s going to the right areas. . . . If you’re not getting chances, that’s the problem. If you’re getting chances, eventually it’s going to turn.’’

Thing is, Saad been saying that for five months. With nine games left in the season, he’s still waiting for it to turn. Since an explosive start in which he scored six goals in the first six games, Saad has been beyond snakebitten. His shooting percentage in the last 67 games is only 5.5 percent, less than half his career average in his first five NHL seasons.

Execution surely has something to do with it, but such a staggering drop in shooting percentage after five consistent seasons doesn’t happen without some bad luck, too.

‘‘It’s just snowballing,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s been tough. I mean, you always seem to face some adversity throughout the year. But to go through it for this long and to see where we’re at in the standings, it’s been a tough year.’’

The numbers — both his strong possession metrics and his baffling shooting percentage — suggest Saad is due for a big bounce-back next season. Marian Hossa went through a similar season in 2015-16, when his shooting percentage plummeted to 6.8 and he scored only 13 goals despite constantly being around the net. The next season, Hossa doubled his goal total to 26 and had the second-best shooting percentage of his career at 15.6.

So while Saad’s name popped up in trade speculation before the deadline, it would be madness to sell low on a 30-goal scorer who’s in the prime of his career at 25. General manager Stan Bowman, Quenneville and Saad all expect him to get back on track.

‘‘I’m really not too worried about the long run,’’ Saad said. ‘‘It’s like us as a team. We’re kind of all underperforming . . . and that’s the reason we’re at where we’re at. I still feel confident in my abilities. It’s bound to break open.’’

Saad has been re-energized this month by playing with Toews and Patrick Kane, and he hopes the line becomes a fixture for the future. He has had great success with both of them in the past, but they’ve rarely played as a trio. So far, they’re certainly generating enough chances, if not enough goals.

‘‘It’s been fun,’’ Saad said. ‘‘And as long as I keep playing the right way and keep getting chances, they’re going to go in eventually.’’

Follow me on Twitter @MarkLazerus.


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