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Upper-body injury will cost Hawks' Sharp 3-4 weeks

by Brian Hedger
CHICAGO -- A bitter loss on Sunday night to the rival Detroit Red Wings got even worse on Monday for the Chicago Blackhawks.

After an optional workout at the Hawks' practice facility down the street from the United Center, coach Joel Quenneville told reporters that star forward Patrick Sharp will be out "three-to-four weeks" with an undisclosed upper-body injury.

It's a big loss for the Hawks, who haven't won in five of their last six games -- including a current four-game skid -- and have dropped to fifth in the Western Conference after being on top less than a week ago. Sharp, whose injury won't require surgery, has 20 goals and 20 assists in 42 games. He's also a stalwart among Chicago's top six forwards.

Sharp was placed on injured reserve Monday and Ben Smith was recalled from Rockford of the American Hockey League.

"He's one of our leading scorers," Hawks goalie Corey Crawford said "If he goes … (everybody) knows what he can bring and just his presence in the room, having a guy there just makes you that much more confident in the room and going out to the ice. Obviously that's a huge loss for us, but all the teams deal with the same sort of stuff. You can't really use it as an excuse."

Patrick Sharp
Left Wing - CHI
GOALS: 20 | ASST: 20 | PTS: 40
SOG: 158 | +/-: 18
Sharp was injured at some point in the first period of Chicago's 3-2 overtime loss Sunday to Detroit at the United Center. Some have theorized that a slash attempt by Red Wings forward Jiri Hudler during a slap shot Sharp took 4:19 into the game is when the injury occurred.

That shot wound up being a goal that put the Hawks up 2-0 and appeared to send the Wings reeling in their second of back-to-back road games against Original Six rivals. Sharp, however, didn't leave the game after the whack by Hudler and actually logged four shifts after it -- including two during a penalty kill late in the period.

The second of those short PK shifts, around the 13:00 mark, is when Sharp took a spill at the top of the slot trying to defend a cross-ice pass to Detroit's Nicklas Lidstrom in the defensive zone. Sharp appeared to break his fall with his hands as teammate Brent Seabrook was tripped and blocked Lidstrom's shot with his chest.

Seabrook got up and took a slashing penalty against Tomas Holmstrom to give Detroit a 10-second 5-on-3 advantage, while Sharp left the ice. According to the play-by-play listing for the game, Sharp returned 1:13 later and lost a faceoff to Pavel Datsyuk before leaving the ice and not returning for the rest of the game.

Asked on Monday if Sharp got injured by Hudler's slash, Quenneville said: "Could've been."

Later Quenneville was asked if Sharp's fall at 13:13 of the first may have contributed to the injury, to which he replied: "Could've, but it's hard to say."

Regardless of the when and how, the fact of the matter is Chicago is left to dig its way out of the current midseason skid without one of its top all-around players and third-leading scorer. The good news is Sharp isn't the only Blackhawk who knows how to score and set up goals.

"Our scoring's so spread out that, obviously we'll miss him, but we've got a lot of other guys who can do the job, too," Crawford said. "It's the second half of the season (now). The first half we had 52 points, so we've just got to focus on this next half and keep playing our game. It's hard to stay in first place all year long. There's not too many teams that do that. When (you drop), it just makes you play harder to get back up there."

"Our scoring's so spread out that, obviously we'll miss him, but we've got a lot of other guys who can do the job, too." -- Blackhawks' goalie Corey Crawford

Quenneville, however, doesn't want his team trying to overcompensate for the loss of Sharp by straying too far from the Hawks' tight-checking and solid defensive efforts that often lead to good offensive scoring chances.

"(Sharp's) certainly had a good first half for us, but I just think we need to pay better attention to detail, play tighter and we might get more offense," Quenneville said. "When we think we've got to outscore teams and everybody's got to manufacture offense is when we expose ourselves."

Chicago already has a pair of rookie forwards in the current playing rotation in Andrew Shaw and Jimmy Hayes -- and they'll likely get extended stays in Sharp's absence if they keep playing the way they have the last couple games.

"Anyone's misfortune is somebody else's opportunity to prove themselves that they can also be in this League," said Shaw, who scored his first career goal on his first official shot against the Philadelphia Flyers last week. "It's an opportunity for us to prove ourselves. It's a misfortune for (Sharp), but if we go out there and keep working, good things will happen."

Chicago is also playing without rookie center Marcus Kruger, who had been centering the second line between Sharp and Marian Hossa before sustaining an upper-body injury believed to be a concussion on Dec. 26 against Columbus.

Kruger was on the ice for the optional team practice on Monday and Quenneville said he continues to get closer to returning.

"He's been good," Quenneville said. "He's progressing and gets better every day. He probably has to do some more testing over the next few days and hopefully we'll get him playing here real soon."

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