CHICAGO -- Chicago Blackhawks forwards Brandon Saad and Viktor Stalberg were given a surprise Saturday when they arrived at the rink and discovered they’d be wearing white jerseys and were being demoted outside the top four lines in practice.
Saad and Stalberg had provided consistent offensive contributions with 19 goals and 31 assists combined in the regular season, but their play noticeably dropped off during their first-round series against the Minnesota Wild. Both had zero goals and one assist in the series’ five games. They tied for the lowest point totals among the forwards who had played in every game.
Ben Smith, who spent the regular season in the AHL, replaced Saad on the top line during Saturday’s practice, and Dave Bolland, who has missed the past eight games due to injury, took Stalberg’s spot on the third line.
Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville wouldn’t go into detail about his line shake-up.
“Couple of the guys we want to have a look-see [and] see how it goes,” Quenneville said.
Saad said he was surprised by the move, but he also understood it.
“Even without [Quenneville] saying anything, I know my play wasn’t at my best,” said Saad, who played his first full NHL regular season and is a finalist for the Calder Memorial Trophy. “I got to get better each game, each round. That’s something I’m looking to do.
“I think [I’m] motivated, for sure. Not playing my best is something you use as motivation. This isn’t a time to get frustrated, especially still playing hockey, still winning, so it’s all good stuff.”
Quenneville thought Saad and Stalberg were better off if they kept their play simple.
“You don’t always feel like you have to make a play,” Quenneville said. “Use your speed, put it in areas where sometimes it might be for races and try to keep the puck and sometimes have some offensive zone shifts.”
The Blackhawks will take Sunday off and return to practice on Monday to prepare for the second round.