By Jay Zawaski-
(CBS) After their 3-2 overtime loss to the Colorado Avalanche Tuesday, Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville did very little to hide his feelings about winger Bryan Bickell’s play.
“Things haven’t gone very well for him. Trying to find something encouraging is where we’re at…and find(ing) a way to improve off these levels.”
Well, there’s the rub, Coach. How can a player improve if he’s not on the ice?
Since his return from injury Dec. 17 (13 games), Bickell has averaged 9:59 of ice time. In his last five games, Bickell has averaged 8:44 of ice time, including nine shifts, and 6:34 night on Tuesday.
If Quenneville believes that Bickell is such a detriment to the team that he can’t be on the ice, then he needs to sit him completely, and not punish his linemates.
Tuesday night, Kris Versteeg, who was on Bickell’s line when he did play, had a perfect Corsi On Percentage — and that’s with zero offensive zone starts. Want that in English? Oh, OK. When Versteeg was on the ice, the Blackhawks had 12 shots on goal, while the Avalanche had zero. More impressive is that every shift of Versteeg’s began in the defensive zone.
I believe Bickell can find his stride if he’s allowed to play regular minutes. He’s a player that can flourish or flounder, depending on his confidence. See Exhibit A) Last season’s playoff run, and Exhibit B) Bickell’s season so far. Sitting him for long stretches of a game is doing nothing to help him.
I know confidence is often a crutch used by writers and analysts to talk about a player’s struggles or successes, and it’s a crutch I rarely use, but with Bickell, it’s real and palpable.
He can be unstoppable, or he can be invisible. Right now, he’s the latter.
The Hawks are good enough to overcome a few extra minutes a night to get the big winger on track. If Quenneville wants the big power forward that helped carry the Hawks in the playoffs, he’s going to have to deal while Bickell finds his mojo.
Jay Zawaski covers the Blackhawks for CBSChicago.com and 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @JayZawaski670.