Take a quick look at the standings in the Western Conference and one thing quickly becomes apparent: everyone wants as much help as they can get right now. As the team currently sitting in the 8th and final playoff spot, the Blackhawks could use every reinforcement available as they try to secure an invitation to the NHL’s playoff party. When the Blackhawks lost Patrick Sharp to a knee injury on March 20th, the hope was that they would get the sniper back by the end of the regular season. There are still two weeks left in the season, but things are looking up for Sharp and the Blackhawks. If nothing else, head coach Joel Quenneville sounded optimistic earlier this week:
“I can’t say exactly when (Sharp’s) hitting the ice, but he’s making some rapid progress here. I’m really pleased and encouraged that he’s been able to ratchet up his off-ice training and conditioning. I don’t have a … day for when he’ll get back on the ice but we’ve been happy with his progress.”
Despite missing a few games recently, Sharp’s 34 goals still rank 7th in the league while his 68 points are still in the top 20. They’ve brought up rookie Marcus Kruger to help fill the void up front (created by both Sharp and Dave Bolland’s absence), but Sharp add a different dynamic to the team. Kruger has performed admirably in his first couple of NHL games, but he’s a two-way forward that looks much more like Bolland than Sharp. Sharp is a dynamic scorer who can create his own opportunities, as well as bury chances when playing with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. Obviously, guys who can score 34 goals in a season don’t fall off of trees—or out of Sweden for that matter. The place where the team notices the biggest difference is their overall scoring. Over the course of the season, the Hawks have been the 4th highest scoring team in the league with 3.12 goals per game. But in the four games since Sharp’s injury, the defending Stanley Cup champs have only been able to muster 2.24 goals per game en route to playing .500 hockey (2-2-0). No disrespect to Troy Brouwer, but the team takes on a completely different look when a good role player is replaced with a bona fide goal scorer. As it stands right now, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane will be given the task of making Brouwer look like he fits on the top line. When Sharp is playing on their wing, he makes Toews/Kane look good as much as they make him look good. He belongs. It’s no secret the Blackhawks are a better team when they have Sharp in the lineup. With wins at a premium, they’re going to need the best team possible if they want to sneak into the last playoff spot. At this stage in the season, the ladies won’t be the only ones making the “get well” signs for him.