CHICAGO | In Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville’s system, youth is served when productive.
Conversely, youth is forced to take a seat when Quenneville’s standards are not met.
So went the flow of Sunday’s 4-2 victory over the Central Division-leading St. Louis Blues, the Hawks’ second straight at home over their geographic rival and potential second-round playoff opponent. The victory was the Hawks’ third in a row, first time since Dec. 8-11.
Rookie forward Jeremy Morin, playing well since being recalled from AHL Rockford two weeks ago, scored the first goal and recorded a deft assist on a goal by Patrick Sharp. Meanwhile, forward Brandon Saad, 21 but a core member of the Hawks the past two seasons, took a one-day seat on the bench.
Never afraid to play a fundamentally-sound kid, Quenneville started Morin on a line with Bryan Bickell and center Peter Regin. By the time Morin slid a cross-ice pass to Sharp for a wrister from the left circle near the end of the second period, he had moved to a line centered by Andrew Shaw.
“Honestly, it feels good to contribute,” Morin said. “I’m in the lineup trying to make the most of it. I’m more comfortable out there ... Before, I was kind of thinking too much. I’m just playing the game right now.”
Hearing Quenneville’s repeated admonitions all season, the Hawks are going hard to the net in the last few games. Bickell’s long shot produced a modest rebound off Blues goalie Brian Elliott. Morin outraced the Blues defense to reach the puck first. He put it in for a 1-1 tie midway through the first period.
Fifty-six seconds into the third, Joakim Nordstrom blasted a shot off Elliott. The puck skittered along the goal mouth, nearly going in. Quickly, Marcus Kruger, a half-step ahead of the Blues defense, tapped it in for 3-1 lead.
“I think that’s how you’re going to get goals in this league,” Morin said. “You have to get those second opportunities.”
Even with his roster depleted by the injury loss of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane until the playoffs, Quenneville isn’t afraid to play still another man short to send a message. Saad, with 19 goals and 26 assists, was a healthy scratch Sunday and he has been largely unproductive since missing three games with an upper-body injury.
“Playing the right way is something we reinforce,” Quenneville said. “I don’t ever think he got those shifts and games where he was just rolling and comfortable with the puck, and playing with the pace we’re accustomed to seeing.
“I expect him to be a big piece of our team here. We need him to be back playing and expect him to be back in the next game (Wednesday against Montreal here).”
The Blues had a 40-23 advantage in hits while the Hawks outshot the Blues 35-23 Sunday, including 11-3 in the first period.
After losing their first three games against St. Louis, the Hawks blanked them 4-0 here March 19. But Blues coach Ken Hitchcock is still defiant despite the momentum shift.
“What’s the series at?” Hitchcock retorted when asked if he’s had to face the Hawks at their peak. When a follow-up question was asked, Hitchcock repeated himself: “What’s the series at, it’s a season? OK. What’s the series at? Thanks.”