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Why Patrick Sharp’s play is crucial for Chicago’s Cup hopes

Jared Clinton
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Patrick Sharp fights off a check from Victor Hedman (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) Author: The Hockey News

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Why Patrick Sharp’s play is crucial for Chicago’s Cup hopes

Jared Clinton
By:

Patrick Sharp is on his longest scoring drought since 2007-08, and he needs to correct it if the Chicago Blackhawks want to make life difficult for the Tampa Bay Lightning. Sharp hasn’t scored in 11 games and has just five points over that span, and coach Joel Quenneville has barely used Sharp in the first two games of the Stanley Cup final.

Following Chicago’s Game 2 loss to Tampa Bay,
Patrick Sharp was one of the few Blackhawks who stood and answered media questions following the game. Sharp, one of the team’s leaders, was there not simply because of the letter on his sweater, but also because his back-to-back minor penalties were a big factor in the Lightning’s victory. “(Taking consecutive minor penalties) is something – I don’t think I’ve ever done that before,” Sharp said. “But it happened. We move on from it. I’ll take responsibility for it, and I apologized to our penalty killers for putting them under such stress.” Of course, now, many eyes will be on Sharp in Game 3. His penalties in Game 2 aside, though, there are more reasons to wonder about Sharp’s game. It has been 11 games since he registered a goal, a stretch that must be haunting the four-time 30-goal scorer. And in a lineup that has relied upon secondary scoring from Sharp to compliment the likes of
Patrick Kane and
Jonathan Toews, having Sharp go cold at this time of year could end up costing the Blackhawks.

In a way, Chicago’s strength has been built off of being able to utilize Sharp at the top of the lineup and him finding ways to score. This post-season, however, it’s beginning to look like he has, in a way, been replaced by the likes of
Brandon Saad and even young gun
Teuvo Teravainen. Even his ice time would suggest such. Through the post-season, the only forwards who have averaged more time on ice than Sharp are Toews, Kane, Saad,
Marian Hossa and
Brad Richards, in that order. That Saad sees more time than Sharp at this juncture is to be expected, especially considering Saad plays top line minutes alongside Toews. But in Game 1, Sharp saw less than 11 minutes of playing time. Only two forwards – linemate
Antoine Vermette and winger
Kris Versteeg – were on the ice less. Game 2 wasn’t much different, as Vermette, Versteeg and
Andrew Desjardins were the only forwards who played less than Sharp. His post-season average of 15:56 is the lowest of his career and his four goals are the fewest he has contributed in a playoff run this deep. There’s always the possibility that Sharp is struggling due to injury, but it could also be that coach Joel Quenneville simply isn’t happy with Sharp’s play. And when Sharp has gone 11 games without scoring, it’s not hard to imagine Quenneville isn’t a touch frustrated he’s not getting the secondary scoring he had been able to rely on so heavily over the past seven seasons. At no time since 2007-08 has Sharp been mired in a longer drought. While the notion of shot quality and its validity continue to be a hot topic in the analytics community, it’s hard not to wonder if there’s something to be said for Sharp’s woes coinciding with the shots he has taken since the beginning of his current slump, too. In total, Sharp has let go of 28 shots, six of which are classified as high-threat scoring chances by War-On-Ice. The thing is, though, those six shots are about the only ones that have come between the circles. Looking through Sharp’s past 11 games,
the majority of his shots are coming from the wing and areas that aren’t exactly the most threatening of scoring positions. On top of his goal-scoring struggles, Sharp has managed to register five assists, but only one has been a primary assist – the rebound that found Vermette for the overtime winner in Game 4 against the Anaheim Ducks. Without Sharp producing, it’s harder to see where, exactly, Chicago has the advantage over Tampa Bay, especially considering the outlandish ability of the Lightning’s ‘Triplets’ line of Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat. What was maybe once a slight margin over the Tampa Bay will be even thinner for Chicago should Sharp not get going. The Blackhawks were able to dispose of the Nashville Predators and Minnesota Wild thanks in large part to Sharp’s play. They got through the Ducks in spite of Sharp producing just three points in seven games. Now, this is the Chicago’s toughest test. If fans in the Windy City want to see their team hoist another Stanley Cup, Sharp needs to be his 30-goal-scoring self. Otherwise, it’s going to be an incredibly tough series for the Blackhawks.

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Why Patrick Sharp’s play is crucial for Chicago’s Cup hopes