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At the Rink: Blackhawks at Devils

by Dan Rosen

NEWARK, N.J. -- The Chicago Blackhawks are playing so well that they can't even find room in their top-six group of forwards for a four-time 30-goal scorer who was good enough to be one of 14 forwards to play for Canada at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

Patrick Sharp will return to Chicago's lineup Tuesday against the New Jersey Devils at Prudential Center after missing the previous 14 games, but he'll be back as a third-line right wing. Sharp was a second-line left wing before he hurt his right knee in a 5-0 win against the Montreal Canadiens on Nov. 4.

Sharp had 78 points in 82 games last season and nine points in 13 games this season before the injury.

"I expect him to bring some pace, energy, [to] play his game," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "He should get a normal workload and he should be ready."

Quenneville said he thinks Sharp last started a game at right wing in 2010, though his versatility has allowed the coach to shuffle him around to play all three forward positions during games.

Sharp is starting on the third line with center Andrew Shaw and left wing Bryan Bickell because the Blackhawks don't want to disrupt the chemistry they have now with their top-two lines.

Chicago has won six in a row and nine of 10 since putting Jonathan Toews with Marian Hossa and Brandon Saad, and Brad Richards between Patrick Kane and Kris Versteeg for a 6-2 victory against the Dallas Stars on Nov. 16.

"We want to continue what we're doing, playing the right way," Quenneville said. "We have a lot of guys in our lineup right now who can move into different spots. We went through that process probably the first [17] games when we had a lot of movement in our lineup, too much of it. I think there has been more stability there in the last 10 games. We don't change things if things are going alright, but [Sharp] is coming back healthy and it's a good situation to be involved in."

Sharp didn't seem concerned about where he will play in the lineup; he's just thrilled that he can finally get back in.

"I think you look at our roster over the last couple years, everyone seems to play with everyone over the course of the season. I'm no different," Sharp said. "I've played with everybody on the team. I play all three forward positions, play defense on the power play, so I'm comfortable wherever he puts me. I'm just happy to be back in there."

The task of closing the door on the Blackhawks falls to Devils goalie Keith Kinkaid, who was recalled from Albany of the American Hockey League prior to the game Tuesday. Kinkaid will be making his first NHL start.

Cory Schneider, who leads the League with 27 starts, made 39 saves, including 17 in the third period, on Monday.

Kinkaid has appeared in two games in relief of Schneider this season. He has allowed one goal on 11 shots in 27 minutes. He was the losing goalie in a 4-3 loss to the St. Louis Blues on Nov. 6.

Kinkaid has gone 7-2-2 with a 2.19 goals-against average and .923 save percentage in 13 appearances with Albany this season.

The Devils, who beat the Carolina Hurricanes 2-1 on Monday, will again have to go with a makeshift lineup. Forwards Dainius Zubrus, Patrik Elias and Mike Cammalleri will be out of the lineup with injuries.

Elias (groin) and Cammalleri (pulled posterior muscle) will miss their second straight games. Elias was placed on injured reserve retroactive to Saturday, the Devils announced.

Zubrus sustained a laceration on his left leg during the game Monday and will be unable to play. He was cut with 12:14 remaining in the second period and played only one more shift the rest of the game.

The Devils recalled Reid Boucher from Albany to replace Zubrus in the lineup.

Devils coach Peter DeBoer said he won't decide on his line combinations and defense pairs until after warmups. DeBoer is contemplating a change on defense, which likely would include Eric Gelinas, who was benched for the final 29:39 of the game Monday.

Here are the projected lineups:


Brandon Saad - Jonathan Toews - Marian Hossa

Kris Versteeg - Brad Richards - Patrick Kane

Bryan Bickell - Andrew Shaw - Patrick Sharp

Daniel Carcillo - Marcus Kruger - Ben Smith

Duncan Keith - Brent Seabrook

Niklas Hjalmarsson - Johnny Oduya

Klas Dahlbeck - Michal Rozsival

Scott Darling

Antti Raanta

Scratched: David Rundblad, Joakim Nordstrom

Injured: Corey Crawford (lower body), Trevor van Riemsdyk (left patella surgery)


Reid Boucher - Scott Gomez - Jaromir Jagr

Tuomo Ruutu - Adam Henrique - Michael Ryder

Martin Havlat - Jacob Josefson - Mike Sislo

Jordin Tootoo - Stephen Gionta - Steve Bernier

Andy Greene - Damon Severson

Jon Merrill - Marek Zidlicky

Seth Helgeson - Peter Harrold

Keith Kinkaid

Cory Schneider

Scratched: Eric Gelinas

Injured: Mike Cammalleri (pulled posterior muscle), Patrik Elias (groin), Dainius Zubrus (leg lacerations), Adam Larsson (flu), Travis Zajac (lower body), Bryce Salvador (lower body), Ryane Clowe (head)

Status report: Darling is getting his second straight start in goal after making 32 saves in a 3-1 win against the Nashville Predators on Saturday. Raanta started the previous two games and allowed four goals on 82 shots in wins against the St. Louis Blues and Canadiens. "We don't forecast too much on the goalies right now," Quenneville said. "I expect them both to probably play on this trip." The Blackhawks play at the Boston Bruins on Thursday and at the New York Islanders on Saturday. … Chicago sent Jeremy Morin to the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League on a conditioning assignment, and forward Joakim Nordstrom was reassigned to Rockford to make room for Sharp's return.

Who's hot: Saad had a goal and an assist in Chicago's win against Nashville on Saturday and has three goals and two assists for five points in the past four games. "That consistency is what we're looking for, because he does have a game where he plays like a power forward, has the puck a lot, can take it to the net, can beat defensemen wide with speed," Quenneville said of Saad. "When he does that he goes to the highest level in the League, like we saw last game. Bringing that more consistently is what we're looking at."


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