NEWARK, N.J. — Two days after making Patrick Sharp a healthy scratch for the first time since Sharp’s rookie season, Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville showed the veteran the respect he has earned. Quenneville not only re-inserted Sharp into the lineup but put him on the top line with Jonathan Toews and Brandon Saad on Saturday night against the New Jersey Devils.
“Everybody wants to play. Everybody wants to play more,” Quenneville said when asked if the one-game benching will motivate Sharp. “His situation, playing with Jonny and Sodder, maybe there’s some offense there and a little more consistency on the production side.”
Sharp, while obviously disappointed to be scratched against the Stars, was matter-of-fact about his return.
“It’s another opportunity to be back in the lineup and be better than I was before,” he said.
Sharp, who has 280 career NHL goals, was a healthy scratch for the first time since his formative years with the Philadelphia Flyers. He has three goals and nine points, with a minus-six differential, with one goal in his last 27 games. He downplayed the wake-up call aspect of the healthy scratch.
“I’m always motivated. I don’t think sitting out adds to that motivation,” Sharp said. “I’d like to think I’ve been pretty motivated all season long. It just hasn’t gone the way I’d like.”
Sharp said he has recovered from hip surgery that prematurely ended his 2016-17 season with the Dallas Stars. He just has to start playing better.
“I’m a better player when I’m skating and shooting,” Sharp said. “It sounds pretty basic, but when I use my quickness and speed — pace to my game — it’s an asset.”
With Sharp on the Toews line, Quenneville dropped rookie Alex DeBrincat to a reconstituted third line with Ryan Hartman and Richard Panik. That made Vinnie Hinostroza the odd man out against the Devils.
DeBrincat was hardly a drag on the top line, but certainly more productive previously on the third line, where he possesses the puck more and gets better matchups.
“He’ll definitely get that,” Quenneville said. “But it seemed like he had the puck more [on the third line]. Without it he’s pretty effective on where he needs to be and how he goes around the ice in all the zones. For him, it’s have the puck and play to your strengths.
Mix and match
Quenneville’s line changes get a lot of scrutiny, but to players like Hartman, playing with two new linemates is business as usual.
“We’re just excited to get going and get playing,” Hartman said. “You guys look at it a little more than we do — who’s playing with who. We do our jobs, and if all three of us are doing our jobs, we’re going to be a good line. It’s the same up and down all four lines.”
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