Blackhawks

Patrick Sharp will do whatever it takes to win another Stanley Cup in return to Blackhawks

Patrick Sharp will do whatever it takes to win another Stanley Cup in return to Blackhawks

Patrick Sharp was finishing up his opening statement when he broached the obvious subject: what to expect in his second tour of duty with the Blackhawks?

“I want to make it clear that I’m coming back home to contribute to the Blackhawks in whatever role it may be,” he said.

Sharp departed the Blackhawks two summers ago a three-time Stanley Cup champion, a top-six forward who played a big role in the team’s success. Now he’s back with Chicago, although with time passing comes changes. Sharp is now 35 and coming off one of his toughest seasons, especially with injuries. He’s recovering, very well and on schedule, from a hip surgery in March. He probably won’t be the top-six guy this time around. But to get another chance at a Cup with a group he knows very well, Sharp is willing to play whatever role necessary.

Sharp talked to the media on Saturday afternoon, not long after signing his one-year deal worth $1 million with the Blackhawks. It’s the latest in the Blackhawks’ attempts to rekindle magic with former players. For the most part, this has not worked out well. But for general manager Stan Bowman, the familiarity of Sharp, coupled with the forward’s ability to mentor to young players and fill a role on a team needing depth, was a convincing combination.

“We expect him to bring a lot of speed to the table. He knows how to put the puck in the net. That’s something some players just have a knack of getting open and getting the shot off. As far as the intangibles go, stuff away from the ice, there’s no question there’s chemistry there,” Bowman said. “There are younger players here who weren’t here when Patrick was here before, but I think he’s going to help mentor those guys. Patrick has a lot of experience, been through a lot of situations. He can help sort of mentor those younger players and so from that perspective, there’s great comfort level among players and staff.”

[MORE: Blackhawks bolster depth with flurry of moves]

As for that speed and great skating, how much will be affected by Sharp’s hip surgery. Both Sharp and Bowman said he’s progressing just fine and Sharp will be ready for training camp — the surgery had a 4-5-month recovery window. Sharp said he’s, “pushing it pretty hard in the gym, and I’ve been on the ice in full equipment skating. I don’t anticipate any problems going forward.”

“I still have a ton of time to be ready for Day 1 and be ready for training camp,” Sharp continued. “I had got the surgery toward the end of [March] and that provided me with a ton of time… not to just back to the level I was at in March but it also allows me time to build my body back up to where I can play a season. I’ve played a lot of hockey, I know where I have to be physically and mentally to start the season. The time I’ve given myself is plenty.”

So where does Sharp end up in the lineup? As of now, Brandon Saad is penciled in as Jonathan Toews’ left wing. Nick Schmaltz, who played some with Patrick Kane last season, will likely get the first shot on Kane’s wing when the season begins. Sharp finished his 2014-15 postseason playing on the Blackhawks’ third line, and that’s probably where he could start this fall.

Sharp had several options this free agency. Like Brian Campbell last season, he took a lot less money to return to the Blackhawks. Much like his paycheck, his role will be different this time, too. But it’s a familiar place full of familiar faces, and whatever role Sharp takes on in order to win another Cup, he said he’s willing to play it.

“I expect to be 100 percent ready to go from Day 1, to contribute in any role Joel [Quenneville] puts me in and I’ll do the best I can,” Sharp said. “I look back to my time in Chicago, being a part of three different teams, all three times I played in a different spot. Things move around, there’ll be changes and combination, but I’m open and ready for anything.”

Gustav Forsling showing improvement in his second season with Blackhawks

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USA TODAY

Gustav Forsling showing improvement in his second season with Blackhawks

On two consecutive Saturday evenings the Blackhawks were looking for a little more offense. On two consecutive Saturday evenings they got some from Gustav Forsling, whose shots got through to either tie a game (vs. Carolina) or take a lead (vs. Pittsburgh).

Forsling isn’t the big go-to guy when it comes to points but he’s nevertheless getting them for a Blackhawks team that’s starting to find its offense again. But this is more about Forsling’s overall game which, not long after he made the Blackhawks roster last fall, plateaued. This season he’s been more consistent and more confident from the start, and he and Jan Rutta have formed a pair that coach Joel Quenneville trusts and has kept together for most of this season. The 21-year-old defenseman talked of working on the mental side of his game entering this season and said he feels the difference.

“I’ve been working on it this summer and I feel a little bit better,” he said. “[Just] more confident with the puck and confident in myself and pretty much everywhere.”

Quenneville has seen the difference.

“I think he’s getting better with his reads,” Quenneville said. “He’s got a better gap. [Being] quicker all over the ice is part of that and nice to see him pound one that goes through because his shot can be a lot heavier than it’s been and we want him to use it a little bit more, too.”

Forsling says he feels comfortable playing with any of the Blackhawks’ defensemen but there’s no doubt he and Rutta have been good together. The two clicked immediately, and at times they’ve been the Blackhawks’ second pair.

“I think we’re thinking the same way out there on the ice. We have a great conversation out there and everything’s worked out fine,” Forsling said. “He’s a funny guy and we get along well.”

Forsling’s offensive contributions are welcomed but so is his defense. When the Rangers were looking for the game-tying goal late in the third period on Wednesday, Forsling was on Corey Crawford’s left side to prevent David Desharnais from scoring it. Seventy-six seconds later, Artem Anisimov’s goal gave the Blackhawks a two-goal lead.

“Great play by him,” Crawford said. “For us, we want to cover the short side there and it’s great or him to get over quick and get his stick there. Definitely a great stop by him.”

Forsling’s playing with more confidence. He’s added a little early offense. The Blackhawks wanted Forsling to reach another level this season and so far, he’s doing that.

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 2-1 win over Penguins: Power play becoming a strength?

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 2-1 win over Penguins: Power play becoming a strength?

Here are five takeaways from the Blackhawks’ 2-1 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday night:
 
1. That's how you start a game.

The Blackhawks haven't had the best of starts over the last couple weeks or so — aside from their recent four-goal first period against New Jersey. But they flew out of the gates in Pittsburgh.

Chicago recorded 27 shot attempts (11 on goal) in the opening frame compared to Pittsburgh's 13 attempts (nine on goal), and led in the even-strength scoring chances department 11-2.

Two of those chances were breakaways from Nick Schmaltz and Jonathan Toews, but both were denied by Matt Murray. The Blackhawks cashed in on one of two power play opportunities, however, and took a 1-0 lead into the second.

2. Power play strikes again.

Speaking of power plays, the Blackhawks came up empty on their first one of the game, but they were handed another one 44 seconds later at the midway mark of the first and capitalized when Gustav Forsling slipped one five-hole past Murray. 

It's the third consecutive game the Blackhawks have scored on the man advantage, something they hadn't done since Oct. 7-12 when they scored in four straight. It's also the second consecutive game the power play unit netted the game winner.

The Blackhawks are 5-for-13 (38.5 percent) on the power play in their last three games after going 5-for-53 (9.4 percent) in their previous 12. 

3. Should Blackhawks have pushed back immediately following Corey Crawford injury?

A scary moment occurred in the second period when Evgeni Malkin swiped Crawford in the mask while racing for a loose puck, forcing the Blackhawks netminder to exit before returning a few minutes later.

Malkin was given a two-minute minor penalty for goaltender interference, but should the Blackhawks have stood up for Crawford at the expense of getting tagged with a penalty themselves?

No question a power play opportunity with a chance to make it a two-goal game at that stage of the game — and against the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions who hadn't lost in regulation at home this season going into the matchup —  is important, but the Blackhawks' lack of retaliation was a bit surpising. 

It wasn't a dirty play by Malkin by any means, but there's a principle involved when your goaltender gets hit like that. Those are the kinds of penalties you shouldn't mind taking, and at the very worst it would've been 4-on-4 hockey with one of Pittsburgh's best forwards in the box.

4. Artem Anisimov stays hot.

The goals keep coming for No. 15.

After the Penguins tied it up at 1-1 in the third period with a shorthanded goal, Anisimov scored 21 seconds later on the power play to put the Blackhawks back in front 2-1.

Anisimov now has nine goals in his last 10 games after scoring just one goal in his first 10 to start the season. He also has four game-winning goals on the season, all of which have come this month. Brandon Saad leads the NHL with five.

5. Alex DeBrincat extends point streak.

Lost in the shuffle was the Blackhawks' top rookie getting on the scoresheet once again.

With an assist on Forsling's power play goal in the first period, DeBrincat extended his point streak to four games. He has four goals and two assists in that span, and is averaging a point per game over his last nine (six goals and three assists).

DeBrincat also moved into a three-way tie with Richard Panik and Toews for second on the team with 13 points.