Bickell had zero goals, zero assists, zero shots on goal, zero shots blocked, zero missed shots, zero giveaways, zero takeaways and zero blocked shots. The one number that Bickell did produce was four hits, and that was fine by him.
Bickell’s season will in the end be defined by all those other numbers, especially by how many goals he scores, but his focus now is making his 6-foot-4, 233-pound frame into a wrecking ball. Being physical is what began his ascension as a playoff star last season, and it’s what he’s turning to now to jumpstart his season after a slow beginning.
“I think I was getting away from playing my game,” Bickell said on Monday before the Blackhawks departed to play the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday. “My main strength is my physical game. I feel when I bring that it gets me more in the game, it gets the team more in the game.
“The last couple of games before [the Sabres] I wasn’t there physically. Mixing up the lines and trying different things to get me going I guess to get back to where I was. I thought the last game was a good step to where I need to get and hopefully I can move on.”
Expectations have changed for Bickell since last season, and that’s something he’s getting accustomed to as well. He’s no longer seen as a third-line contributor as he was last regular season, but as the top-6 forward who accumulated nine goals and 17 points during the Stanley Cup run and was given a four-year, $16-million contract in the offseason.
Bickell won’t admit he’s feeling the weight of those expectations, but teammate Patrick Kane can sense it.
“I feel like there’s a lot of pressure on him,” Kane said. “I don’t know if that comes with the coaching staff or the media or whatever, but he’ll be fine. He wants to do well. I do think he plays better when he is physical out there. I thought he had a fine game [against the Sabres.] When he plays simple and when he plays hard like that, he’s going to be a factor.”
Bickell kept it simple in the playoffs, and he was rewarded. But entering this season, he began trying to duplicate the creative playing styles of Kane and Jonathan Toews, and that hasn’t worked out well. Bickell not only had a total of just five hits through the first four games, but he also wasn’t producing in other areas. He has just one point -- an assist -- to show for the year.
“Playing with Toews and Kane, they have a lot of offensive ability, and you want to get them the puck,” Bickell said. “You see what they do on the ice, and you want to contribute to what they kind of do, but that gets away from my game. I need to play my strengths -- the hitting, getting the puck, shooting the puck -- and let those guys do their thing.
“Me being physical keeps me in the game, opens the ice up for those two guys, and gives them more time to do what they’re good at. For me to be physical and to get in front and get the pucks in the corners and do kind of the dirty work is what helps our line.”
Quenneville showed his displeasure with Bickell’s play by moving him from the top line to the third line prior to the Sabres’ game on Saturday. But as the game went on and Bickell proved to be more of a factor, Quenneville switched Bickell back with Kane and Toews.
Going forward, Quenneville wants Bickell to remain physical, and he’s confident the rest will follow.
“I think if he does that consistently, ultimately, I think all things can complement his game because he’s fast, he plays at a high speed for a big man and he’s got decent hands,” Quenneville said. “If he’s creating some forechecking pressure and that presence at the net, there’s a lot of stuff he can put in. We saw earlier on in camp and last year in the playoffs that he’s good in that area. Just get there. That physicality complements the other parts of his game.”
Bickell was grateful for that vote of confidence.
“It’s nice to see he still believes and knows what I’m capable of,” Bickell said. “I just need to bring it tomorrow.”