Chicago Blackhawks: 4 Players Who Benefited from the Olympic Break
The Chicago Blackhawks will be returning to action in a few days. Ten 'Hawks took part in the 2014 Sochi Olympics over the last two weeks. Six of them will be going head to head in Sunday's gold-medal clash between Canada and Sweden. Patrick Kane is in action Saturday as the U.S. tries to salvage a bronze medal.
Meanwhile, veteran Blackhawks Marian Hossa, Michal Handzus and Michal Rozsival have had some time to recover following Slovakia and the Czech Republic being eliminated earlier this week.
Even a few days off for the three elder statesmen for Chicago is nice as the 'Hawks prepare to resume their NHL schedule in New York Feb. 27. Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp, Duncan Keith, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Johnny Oduya and Marcus Kruger won't have a lot of down time before Chicago meets the New York Rangers, but that's the way it goes.
As for the rest of the Blackhawks roster, there has been an opportunity to recharge for what figures to be a taxing stretch run to the playoffs this spring. Here are four 'Hawks who I feel had the most to gain with the recent time off.
1. Bryan Bickell
Bryan Bickell's season hasn't quite lived up to his 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs performance. Whatever you think about the sizable contract he signed in the offseason, it's hard to argue that few players needed some time off the ice more than Bickell did.
Bickell has had lower body issues through a lot of this season. The results have been mixed since his return from a November injury to his left knee. Of course, Bickell skated through the playoffs with a right knee that required surgery last summer.
The minutes have been pretty low for him going into the Olympic break. Some time away from the rigors of the game can only help his lower body strength. Hopefully, the break also helped Bickell clear his head and he returns with some more consistent production.
2. Corey Crawford
Corey Crawford looked solid heading into the Olympic hiatus, but I still believe the rest did the 'Hawks goalie a lot of good.
As I expected, Chicago coach Joel Quenneville is leaning heavily on his starter in net. Crawford started 10 of Chicago's last 13 games and relieved Antti Raanta in Calgary Jan. 28.
Crawford may be disappointed about being left off Team Canada, but he will see plenty of action for the Blackhawks in the last two months of the season. As the playoff push comes to a head, the rest he picked up could really serve him well.
3. Brent Seabrook
I like that Brent Seabrook had some time off. Team Canada has done fine without him, and Chicago is going to need him at his best in the coming weeks.
Defensive partner Duncan Keith skated big minutes for the Canadian team. With Hjalmarsson, Oduya and Rozsival also taking part in the Olympic tournament, it would be nice for the 'Hawks to show that depth on the back end.
Seabrook and Nick Leddy can help the transition for their returning teammates with some strong efforts in the next few games. For a player as physical as Seabrook, the break will hopefully lead to picking up some slack for the 'Hawks defense.
4. Brandon Saad
The Blackhawks are going to need some secondary scoring down the stretch. For a young forward like Brandon Saad, the time off should be a benefit.
Let's remember that this is really Saad's first full professional season. Fatigue over the long NHL campaign is common in young players.
A strong spring from Saad could make a difference as the sands run out on the regular season. Look for him to use the Olympic break as a springboard to a big finish to 2013-14.