For Chicago Blackhawks, nothing healthy about being scratched
The healthy scratch.
Whether they're forced to sit out one game because a coach wants to give them a kick in the pants or if they're out for weeks on end because of a loaded roster, this can be the toughest thing players deal with during their pro careers.
"It (stinks) not playing," said the Blackhawks' Ryan Hartman, who has sat out three games this season. "So you're always ready to get back in the mix when your name is called."
Coach Joel Quenneville recently used the same lineup for a six-games-in-10-day stretch in which the Hawks went 1-3-2. Would it perhaps have been a good idea to insert Jordan Oesterle, Michal Kempny or the since-demoted Tanner Kero for a game or two for some added energy?
Because when Oesterle and Kempny -- and the just-called-up Vinnie Hinostroza -- were slotted in over the past week, their fire was more than noticeable.
Quenneville said his staff looks at "all the variables of what makes us best," and that sometimes using guys who aren't playing much can be healthy for the team. But he also admitted it's a tough balancing act because he wants to use the strongest players as often as possible.
Kempny dressed Thursday for the first time since Nov. 12 and scored on a wicked blast in the third period of the Hawks' 5-1 victory at Winnipeg.
Oesterle, who has been scratched a team-high 25 times, has looked fantastic skating with Duncan Keith. He has 9 shots on goal and is a plus-6 in the last four games. He also delivered a gorgeous stretch pass to Patrick Kane that led to Kane's second goal of the Hawks' 4-1 victory over Minnesota on Sunday.
Oesterle and Kempny finally returned to the lineup because of injuries to Cody Franson and Jan Rutta.
"It's a really hard mental thing, getting scratched and sitting out," said defenseman Connor Murphy, who sat three of the Hawks' first 12 games. "You go into every season having the expectation to help your team and be out there battling with each other every day. When you don't get that chance, it's hard, and it's easy to get down.
"We've had guys that have handled it well and are really strong and good teammates. They still come to the rink with a smile on their face and are working hard, and that's all you can ask of anyone."
Murphy, Hartman and Richard Panik are three regulars who have been scratched due to lackluster play.
Hartman was benched in recent wins over Buffalo and Arizona, returned and played well against Florida and Winnipeg, and snapped a 17-game goal-scoring drought against the Wild on Sunday. Panik sat the last three, and it's anyone's guess when he will return after the Hawks destroyed the Jets and Wild.
Hartman, Oesterle and Murphy said they are definitely motivated after getting scratched.
"It adds a little fuel to your fire," Murphy said. "Everyone wants to have a lengthy career in the NHL and everyone wants to play in every game they can. So it definitely isn't a good sign when you're (scratched).
"You want to make sure you're coming out and showing you have extra motivation that you're going to have everything on your side to keep them from sitting you out."
If you think that's a unanimous opinion, though, think again.
"You need to be extremely, extremely motivated every opportunity you have in the lineup," forward Tommy Wingels said. "I don't think it takes a healthy scratch to change your demeanor, your drive or anything like that. … You have to be ready to give it your all every game."
Wingels did say watching from above can make you realize what areas can be improved, but the fire needs to be there "every single night."
Hinostroza, a healthy scratch 14 times last season, agreed with Wingels.
"You still just want to play your game," he said. "You don't want to come in and try to do too much and make a mistake."
Quenneville wouldn't say that deciding who sits and who plays is the toughest part of his job, but he has seen tangible evidence that guys often return with more purpose to their game.
"That's what you're hoping for, knowing you've got a lot of energy, a lot of excitement built up," he said. "Whether it's frustration -- (if) you channel it properly it could be healthy for your team.
"You just want to get in there in the worst possibly way and you want to show you can play. The better you play, the more you'll play and it enhances your situation of staying in the lineup."