Struggling Patrick Sharp might be a healthy scratch in Dallas
Patrick Sharp didn’t really want to talk about it, didn’t want to get into specifics about why he has only one goal in his last 27 games, didn’t want to think about what it would be like to be a healthy scratch for the first time in more than a decade.
Perhaps at a younger age, Sharp would have ducked out early and stewed silently. But nine days shy of his 36th birthday, he has been around long enough to know that when a three-time Stanley Cup champion might find himself out of the lineup, it’s significant. So he stood at his stall Monday at MB Ice Arena and answered the questions — briefly but bluntly.
‘‘I’d like to be better,’’ Sharp said.
Sharp’s return to the Blackhawks hasn’t quite been the triumph he had hoped it would be. After battling injury and irrelevance for two seasons with the Stars, Sharp hoped to recapture the form that made him a four-time 30-goal scorer. When training camp opened, his surgically repaired hip was at 100 percent, he had the old jump in his legs again and he was elated to be back in his adopted hometown, with the franchise he never wanted to leave in the first place.
A goal on opening night, plus two assists in the next three games, only heightened expectations. But it has been a slog since, and Sharp found himself on the outside of the lineup at practice Monday, with coach Joel Quenneville leaning toward scratching him Thursday — against the Stars, no less — in favor of Richard Panik, who has been a healthy scratch himself for three games.
‘‘Look, what do you want me to say?’’ Sharp said when he was asked about what he needs to do to improve. ‘‘I can play faster, I can play with more pace, I can use my speed more. I find myself standing around a little bit too much.’’
A prolonged scoring slump is challenging for any player to handle, let alone one who has scored 280 goals in his career. Jonathan Toews has gone through some similar droughts in the last two-plus seasons, and he can emphasize with his longtime teammate.
‘‘He came into this season so, so excited mentally and emotionally, just as motivated as you’ve ever seen, to make an impact with this team,’’ Toews said. ‘‘We all know what he’s capable of. But I think it’s a huge tribute to his maturity and to his leadership in this room . . . how he’s able to stay with it and go out there and compete the way he has.’’
Sharp has had to accept a diminished role. No longer a top-six player, he’s averaging only 13 minutes, 39 seconds of ice time per game — 16th on the team. He’s still on the power play, and his latest line with Vinnie Hinostroza and Ryan Hartman has been promising and productive. But Sharp hasn’t been able to break through himself.
With Panik waiting to get back into the lineup and snap his own 21-game drought, Sharp was the logical, albeit difficult, choice for Quenneville. Perhaps a game off here and there can help keep Sharp fresh. Motivated, too.
‘‘We have some guys who have been out of the lineup for [some] games now, and you don’t want them sitting too long,’’ Quenneville said. ‘‘Up front, maybe there are guys we can move in and out and keep everyone going.’’
Sharp shrugged it off by saying: ‘‘We’ve got a good team, lots of good players. These things are going to happen.’’
They just usually don’t happen to players of his pedigree.
‘‘Sometimes it’s harder on an offensive player [of] his caliber and his level of talent when the pucks aren’t going in and you’re not getting that consistent ice time or the opportunity in offensive situations,’’ Toews said. ‘‘No doubt, it’s tough to keep pushing through. But he’s doing a great job of that so far.’’
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