Just when it looked like things were starting to click for the Chicago Blackhawks, it seems as though the team will be without Patrick Sharp for an extended period of time.
On Tuesday night, the Blackhawks went into the Bell Centre, a building in which they hadn’t won in over a decade, and defeated the Canadiens 5-0. The win, however, didn’t come without paying a certain price. Midway through the third period, with the game well in hand for Chicago, Sharp took a seemingly innocuous hit from Alexei Emelin and could not get back to his feet.
Sharp was helped off the ice and went to the dressing room. He did not return.
After the game, coach Joel Quenneville told media that the injury would keep Sharp out for, “a bit.” Among other things, not giving specifics when it comes to injuries is Quenneville’s trademark, so for the Blackhawks bench boss to even admit the team will be without Sharp is cause for concern.
For a team that was already having scoring woes despite a boatload of shots, the Blackhawks will now need to replace their most prolific shooter – Sharp has already fired 56 pucks on goal – and a winger who has posted four 30-goal campaigns in the Windy City. The simple answer is rely on Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, but without Sharp in the Kane and Toews era, the Blackhawks record is a mere 29-21-9.
First and foremost, Sharp’s absence is going to have an impact on the way Chicago runs its power play, which some Blackhawks fans may not view as the worst thing. Sharp is, without a doubt, the triggerman with the extra skater. So far this season he has nearly double the shots of any other Blackhawks player on the power play and the puck is consistently being worked back to him as he mans the blueline. At 18.9 percent, Chicago’s power play hasn’t been outstanding – especially given the talent on the ice – but it’s moving along at a sustainable rate.
With Sharp gone, the most realistic possibility is Brent Seabrook moves up from the second unit to the first, with the possibility of Trevor van Reimsdyk or Johnny Oduya getting Seabrook’s spot.
Beyond the power play, however, is the fact that just one game after the Blackhawks finally broke out, the lines will need to be shuffled once again. In Tuesday’s game in Montreal, Sharp skated alongside Andrew Shaw and Marian Hossa and the line saw more even-strength minutes than any on the team. Now, with Sharp out, it’ll be interesting to see what Quenneville decides to do with the empty spot.
Bryan Bickell would be an interesting choice to fill that spot, but it’s unlikely he gets the shot. More likely, one would hope, is Jeremy Morin getting a legitimate shot at top-six minutes. On a line with Hossa, the perceived defensive irresponsibility of Morin would be covered. And, while Sharp’s shot generation has been praised, get this: no individual on the Blackhawks, not even Sharp, has generated more shots per 60 minutes of ice time than Morin, who is running at 17.1.
The ripple effect down the lineup if Morin fills Sharp’s spot would still leave a small gap. If Blackhawks fans are being hopeful, Sharp’s injury could signal the call up of Teuvo Teravainen. However, it seems more likely this will be Peter Regin’s moment to step in.
Coming off a two-goal night – which included the game-tying and OT game-winning goal – Regin skated with the Blackhawks last season, understands the style of play, and is more suited to third- or fourth-line minutes that would be available with a Morin or Bickell promotion. He was a positive possession player for the Blackhawks and heralded for his play when he was able to see ice-time in what is one of the most difficult lineups to crack.
The deck will have to be shuffled and Sharp’s injury will be the catalyst. No one can predict what lines Quenneville will come up with, but you can be certain it will be more than a one-for-one swap. Chicago relies on its outstanding shot generation and whoever takes over will have to pick up where Sharp left off.
Beginning Friday, Chicago will have five games in nine nights before embarking on their annual “circus trip,” playing six road games from Nov. 20 to 29. Their depth will certainly be tested. If Sharp doesn’t make the trip, it will be all that more serious.
It’s not impossible, but the already goal-starved Blackhawks are going to need to replace a 30-goal man. Be it Morin, Bickell, Regin, or Teravainen, someone is going to need to step into that spot. And for Chicago to keep pace in the Central, they’re going to have to step up quickly.