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Patrick Sharp embracing yet another new role on checking line

Patrick Sharp joins the celebration after Ben Smith (second from left) scored a goal in Game 6 of the Western Conference final last spring. Sharp will again join Marcus Kruger (left) and Smith on a line tonight. (Getty Images)

The temptation when you see Patrick Sharp on your wing is to flip the switch and go into attack mode, to go on the offensive. Marcus Kruger and Ben Smith don’t plan on succumbing to that temptation.

Sharp doesn’t want them to, anyway.

“No, I don’t want them to do that,” Sharp said. “I want them to play their style of play. They’re very predictable. I think we’re a good mix together. We had some success in the past. I’m looking forward to going out there, taking on some responsibility from the coaches, and having a good game.”

Sharp found himself on the fourth line toward the end of Saturday’s game at Colorado, and will be there again tonight against the Nashville Predators. With Brad Richards (upper-body injury) returning to his usual spot at second-line center, Sharp was the odd-man out. Since he returned from a knee injury on Dec. 9, he’s played on three different lines and at all three forward positions. He’ll have to adapt to yet another new role with the Kruger line, which is usually tasked as a checking line.

Sharp — who skated with Kruger and Smith during the Western Conference final last spring — has started his even-strength shifts in the offensive zone about 65 percent of the time. Kruger starts in the offensive zone a mere 25 percent of the time, often flipping the ice and finishing up in the offensive zone. Hawks coach Joel Quenneville doesn’t want that to change.

“I don’t think we want to change how they play or how we want to play,” Quenneville said. “I think that line gets a lot of time in the offensive zone, they get some opportunities. [But] they have a check-first mentality. We’re putting them out there in a lot of situations where you might start in your own end, but you still get offensive opportunities. … But don’t change what your strengths are.”

Kruger said it was “exciting” to have Sharp on his wing, but agreed that he shouldn’t mess with what’s working.

“We’ll try to play the same game, but of course, try to give [Sharp] the puck in the right areas,” Kruger said. “We’d rather play in their end than our end, and that’s something I think we’ve been doing a pretty good job of lately. So that’s what we’ve got to keep doing. Now that we’ve got Sharp on our line, it maybe give us some extra edge, too. It feels good.”

NOTES: Corey Crawford will start in goal tonight, and will again at the Winter Classic in Washington on Thursday. … Michal Rozsival (lower body) will miss his second straight game tonight, but is expected back on Thursday.


Twitter: @marklazerus