Patrick Sharp must get up to speed for playoffs
BY MARK LAZERUS email@example.com April 24, 2013 11:20PM
Chicago Blackhawks Vs Detroit Red Wings. Chicago Blackhawks No.10 Patrick Sharp controls the puck under pressure from Detroit Red Wings No.27 Kyle Quincey. Friday 13, 2013 I Photo by Scott Stewart~Sun-Times
Updated: April 25, 2013 12:28AM
EDMONTON, Alberta — It hasn’t been a terribly long time since Patrick Sharp last played hockey — 12 days, to be exact. But it has been an awfully long time since Sharp felt entirely like a hockey player.
“I can’t wait,” Sharp said before returning to the ice for the game Wednesday night against the Oilers. “I played a couple of games recently, but it has been a long time since I’ve been back in the swing of things. Hopefully everything goes well, and I can just rejoin the team.”
Sharp missed more than a month — 14 games’ worth in the compressed season — with a left shoulder injury suffered against Colorado on March 6, when Ryan O’Byrne smashed him against the United Center boards. Sharp returned April 9 at Minnesota, but his comeback lasted only two games before he was shelved again for five games with an aggravation of the injury.
So while most of the Blackhawks have little left to play for in the last week of the regular season, with a handful likely to receive some rest during the season-ending back-to-back games against Calgary and at St. Louis, Sharp has a lot at stake this week as he tries to get himself into game shape for the playoffs.
“I think the timing [is the biggest thing],” he said. “When you sit out, you get a chance to try a little harder and work on your conditioning because you’re not playing those games, but you can only skate by yourself so much until you lose that timing. Thankfully, I’m playing with good players on a team that should make it a lot easier to come back.”
Though, as has been the case for most of the season, the Hawks’ second line still isn’t intact with center Dave Bolland out with a groin injury. In his place, Drew LeBlanc made his NHL debut.
Of course, that’s nothing new for Sharp. In fact, Sharp, Bolland and Patrick Kane have all played in the same game in only two of the Hawks’ last 28 because of Sharp’s shoulder and a variety of Bolland ailments.
“I’m used to that,” Sharp said. “This is actually the longest I’ve played with one center since I’ve been in Chicago. Most of these guys in here have played with each other at some point in the last few years, so that doesn’t make a difference. I’ll play with whoever Joel [Quenneville] decides to play.
“The chemistry has been here for a couple of years. . . . That’s Joel’s job, and he does a great job of pushing buttons and making adjustments mid-game. Sometimes you start a game playing with two guys, and halfway through, you’re playing with someone else. As a player, you just get prepared to play, and those things work themselves out.”
Quenneville said he hoped that Sharp could inject some life into the Hawks’ power play, which regressed a bit Monday after two straight two-goal efforts snapped a nine-game goal drought.
He also hoped Sharp could rekindle the magic he had with Kane early in the season, when Kane was tearing up the league and the second line was carrying much of the offensive load.
Sharp has five goals and 13 assists in 26 games.
“With Kane, earlier on, that line was a dangerous line offensively,” said Quenneville, who wanted to get Sharp some “experience” and “pace” heading into the playoffs.
And that’s the key. When Sharp first returned two weeks ago in Minnesota, he wasn’t at all concerned about being ready in time for the playoffs. But now, time is running short.
“There’s a little concern, but we still have a lot of games left,” he said.
“Three should be plenty. I felt pretty good halfway through that first game back a couple of weeks ago, so I’m anticipating everything goes well.”