Peter Regin shrugged. He knew that Daniel Carcillo was set to return on Sunday, and knew his spot in the lineup — maybe even on the roster — was in jeopardy. But as he prepared for Friday’s game in Detroit, Regin wasn’t too worried.
“Not really,” he said. “The only way I can control it is by how I play.”
But how much can you really control in 10 minutes of ice time? Or eight? Or six?
With Daniel Carcillo returning Sunday against Dallas and Joakim Nordstrom recalled from Rockford, Regin was sent back to the AHL on Saturday, his four-game stint with the Hawks perfectly acceptable, but entirely unmemorable. That’s the conundrum of life on the fourth line. The only way to earn more playing time is to make an impact, but it’s tough to make much of an impact without much playing time.
That’s been the story of Jeremy Morin’s career so far. Last season, in three separate stints with the Hawks, he had five goals and six assists in 24 games. But four of those goals and two of those assists came in April, when both Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane were injured, and Morin’s ice time increased from about eight minutes a night to about 12. This season, he has yet to register a point in 14 games while averaging fewer than eight minutes per game.
“Obviously that’s frustrating,” Morin said of the points drought. “At the same time, I just have to keep going. There’s nothing I can do about it.”
Playing limited minutes can be a double-edged sword. It’s hard enough to get into a rhythm and contribute offensively when you’re sitting on the bench for six or seven minutes of game action — that could be about 15 minutes of actual time — as you wait through power plays and penalty kills for your next turn on the ice. Then when you do get out there, you feel the pressure of having to be perfect, knowing that every chance to impress the coaches could be your last for a while.
As Morin has learned a few times, the leash is shorter than it is for a more established player, too — one mistake or bad penalty could land you on the bench, or even in the press box for the next game.
“You have to make sure you do everything right,” said Regin, who was logging about 20 minutes a game in Rockford. “That’s the biggest difference. Even between the leagues, if you make mistakes you pay for it [in the NHL]. And obviously, playing a little less, you don’t have as much time. You can’t just take shifts off, because you won’t get that ice time back. [In the AHL], you can probably be a little more patient and wait for chances to come, and just hang around and wait for opportunities.”
In his limited minutes, Morin has generated his share of offense — the Hawks have attempted 45 more shots than the opponent has when he’s been on the ice, putting his even-strength Corsi percentage (which measures shot attempts) in the top 10 in the league. He’s putting shots on goal at a higher rate (15 per 60 minutes of ice time) than anyone on the team, including Patrick Sharp and Patrick Kane. All without playing on the power play.
But with nothing to show for it on the scoresheet, Morin’s been trying to win over Joel Quenneville in other ways. He fought Adam Burish late in a win over the Sharks, and picked up a couple of roughing penalties.
“You just try to make the most of your minutes,” Morin said. “I’m not creating offense right now, so I’m trying to bring some physicality and stuff like that. You’ve got to try to influence the game with however many minutes you get. You’ve got to do something when you’re out on the ice.”
On a team with so many established veteran forwards, there’s not a lot of upward mobility. But Quenneville insists the opportunity is there. It’s just a matter of forcing his hand.
“Overcomplicating and trying to press, or getting our of your element [won’t help],” Quenneville said. “What got you to the league, playing to your strengths, is basically what we’re talking about. You want to make sure that’s what you do. And maybe by doing it more consistently, and the right way, hopefully you can advance. Or at least get more opportunity.”