NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Patrick Sharp, who has been out since suffering an apparent knee injury on Nov. 4, likely will return to the Blackhawks lineup on Tuesday in New Jersey.
Sharp skated in Nashville on Saturday morning, but missed his 14th straight game. His return will force Joel Quenneville to make some difficult lineup decisions. First, Joakim Nordstrom, who’s been very effective on the checking line with Marcus Kruger and Ben Smith, could be sent back to Rockford of the AHL. And Quenneville will have to find a spot for Sharp in the lineup.
“We like tough decisions,” Quenneville has said frequently.
As for Sharp, he’s just looking forward to getting back in a game after more than a month off.
“Every day I get a little bit better, and that’s what’s fun about hockey, is coming to the rink and working hard and seeing the improvements,” he said on Friday. “It’s just a matter of time.”
Klas Dahlbeck became the third defenseman to make his NHL debut for the Hawks this season on Saturday night. As with Trevor van Riemsdyk and Adam Clendening before him, Joel Quenneville wanted Dahlbeck — who got to know the Hawks, their travel routines and their on-ice systems as a Black Ace last spring — to keep things simple.
“I think that first game has got to be the thrill of a lifetime,” Quenneville said. “Put everything in perspective — just go out there, play hard, trust your instincts, and we’ll reinforce you as you go along here. Klas has got some personality, and we want to make sure he’s channeling it the right way.”
Dahlbeck played 12:24 and took one shot, blocked another, and delivered a hit.
“I liked him,” Quenneville said after the game. “He’s got some motion, got some size, got some movement to his game, got a long stick. He defends with a purpose. Good start for him.”
It’s only December, but first place in the rough-and-tumble Central Division was on the line in Saturday night’s game. Quenneville called it a “four-point game.” And yes, he’s keeping an eye on the crowded standings in the division and beyond.
“I watch the league,” he said. “I’m pretty aware of what the opponents [are doing], and their matchups as well, the standings. Yeah, we know how tight it is and how good it is. There are no easy games outside of the Central, either.”