As the calendar turns to December, the Blackhawks have also turned a page on the season, as they have been rolling recently after a bit of a slow start. A 5-1-0 Circus Trip, 8-2-0 in their last 10 games, special teams clicking, and consistent lines that are rolling, with production coming from throughout the lineup. It’s what a lot of us expected from this Chicago team.
And all of this has happened without one of Chicago’s best goal scorers in Patrick Sharp. Sharp has been sidelined since early November, after an apparent knee injury during a game with the Montreal Canadiens. Sharp practiced with the team today, and though he will not be in the lineup Wednesday against the St. Louis Blues, he is close to returning.
So the question now becomes: what happens to the lineup when Sharp returns?
It's obvious that you do not touch the second line of Kane-Richards-Versteeg. That line is absolutely on fire right now and it would be stupid to split them up.
After a month without playing, do you ease Sharp into the lineup by putting him on the third or fourth line so he can adjust and get his game back? Or what about putting Sharp back on the top line and reuniting him with Toews and Hossa? The current line of Saad-Toews-Hossa hasn’t exactly been lighting up the score sheet recently, but they did have four goals in their first three games together and have shown chemistry in the past.
But given the supposed lack of production (if you can really call four points in seven games lackluster) from Brandon Saad right now, it might seem like the obvious choice is to just replace Saad with Sharp on that line.
But one has to remember that the Saad-Toews-Hossa line is going up against most of the other team’s top lines and players, including Anze Kopitar, Ryan Kesler, Corey Perry, and Tyler Seguin. And they’re shutting them down. While it’d be fantastic to have all four lines putting up points, I’m personally fine with a top line that can shut down the other team’s top lines, allowing for our other lines to produce. If the Blackhawks were not getting any offensive production from their lineup, then I’d be worry about the lack of points from the first line.
Still, you could move Saad off the top line and put Sharp there. But if you do that, the question then becomes: where do you put Saad?
One of either Joakim Nordstrom or Daniel Carcillo is the logical odd man out when Sharp returns to the lineup, and with the way he’s played this season, it shouldn’t be Carcillo. So if Nordstrom goes back to Rockford, do you move Saad down to a line with Kruger and Smith? Or do you bump Carcillo down to that line and put Saad with Bickell and Shaw? Is the supposed lack of production just a sophomore slump come late for Saad that he needs to just work through or does he need to move down the lineup to try and get his game going?
What happens when Patrick Sharp returns will bring another challenge for the coaches to figure out, but no matter where Sharp or anybody else moves, hopefully the ‘Hawks can just keep rolling through a busy December schedule. Q has said in the past that when it comes to the lineup, they like having tough decisions to make, and this is certainly a good problem to have.