All-Star game validates Sharp's career evolution

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All-Star game validates Sharp's career evolution

Saturday, Jan. 29, 2011
Posted 9:06 p.m.

By Tracey Myers
CSNChicago.com

RALEIGH, N.C. John Stevens remembers always getting a look from Patrick Sharp when the Philadelphia Phantoms were prepping for a game-deciding shootout.

He was always looking over his shoulder at you, hoping to be picked, said the former Phantoms coach, now an assistant coach with the Los Angeles Kings. He always had that look of confidence to be the guy to help the team win.

Sharp never needed to hone his focus. Through the years he did hone his game, and as he takes part in this weekends All-Star Game festivities hes evolved into a complete player who has earned superstar status.

With names like Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa getting much of the national attention out of Chicago, Sharps sometimes gets lost in the shuffle. But those who were with him in Philadelphia when his pro career began beg to differ.

As someone whos coached against him, he doesn't get lost in the shuffle. He has become a 200-foot player, said former Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock, who was at the Philadelphia Flyers helm when Sharp was drafted and played for them in the early 2000s.

When he came to us from college, he had the reputation and the game and you could see that he was going to have the ability to score, Hitchcock said. The 200-foot game was something he had to learn and work on but he really did a great job.

Make no mistake: Sharps scoring touch is still tremendous. He already has more goals in 2010-11 (26) than he had all of last season (25) and hes been strong for the Blackhawks on the other side, too, especially on the penalty kill.

For Sharp, those early Philadephia days were a time of learning and growing, especially under Hitchcock.

He knows the real way and right way to play, Sharp said. Im thankful that I played under him for so many years. Id like to think I became a better player because of Hitch.

Sharp was selected in the third round (95th overall) by the Flyers in 2001. He split time between the Flyers and Phantoms during the 2003-04 season. But when the NHL locked out in 2004-05, Sharp played the entire season with the Phantoms.

Hitchcock said the biggest adjustment Sharp had to make wasnt so much his game, but the number he had to play once he hit the pros.

He was playing 36 games a year (at college) and the Phantoms played (nearly) 100 games when they won the Calder Cup in (2004-05). It was an adjustment, Hitchcock said. Just the level of play was one thing, but the amount of games and how many games there were every week was a real grind.

He apparently adjusted quick. Sharp was a big part of the Phantoms run to the Calder Trophy that season, scoring 23 goals in the regular season and eight more in the playoffs. Stevens said Sharp played in every situation for the Phantoms and started to develop his all-around game.

Stevens said he was also selfless. When Jeff Carter came into the Flyers organization and joined the Phantoms, Sharp was the teams No. 1 center. Sharp was asked to move to right wing to give Carter the top center job, and Stevens said Sharp was more than happy to do it.

Mike Haviland, now the Blackhawks assistant coach, first noticed Sharps development while coaching at Atlantic City and then Trenton in the East Coast Hockey League.

He understood what it took to be successful at this level, and its all three zones. He takes a lot of pride in not only scoring goals but also not getting scored upon, Haviland said. Hes made great strides in the defensive zone, especially moving from wing to the middle. Its not easy.

And if Sharp had a bad game during those formative pro years, he was harder on himself than anyone.

He was his own worst critic, Stevens said. It may have been misconstrued at first that he didnt care because he was quiet. He wanted to learn, wanted to work at his game. He did all of the things you want a young player to do. He took the right attitude and now were seeing the fruits of his labor.

But in December 2005 the Flyers traded Sharp to Chicago for forward Matt Ellison, who played little in Philadelphia before ending up overseas. A trade the Blackhawks obviously got the better of, Sharp and his new team seemed to mirror each other: both were about to break through and prosper.

Getting the chance to go to Chicago and play in every situation while the team was growing and building themselves really helped him, Hitchcock said. Without pressure he was able to go there and play and develop. The last couple of years when the team was ready to win, he was ready to play the complete game. He has just developed such a complete game now that he's dangerous offensively, trustworthy defensively.

And thats where Sharp is today. The All-Star nod was validation for how hard hes worked on his game. Its also something that puts him on the league-wide radar. Those who were with him in Philly knew he would be.

I know there are the Hossas and the Toews and Kanes, Hitchcock said. But Sharp has everyone's attention.

Tracey Myers is CSNChicago.com's Blackhawks Insider. Follow Tracey on Twitter @TramyersCSN for up-to-the-minute Hawks information.

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks look to bounce back vs. Lightning tonight on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks look to bounce back vs. Lightning tonight on CSN

Watch as the Blackhawks take on the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live. Then stick around after the final buzzer to watch Blackhawks Postgame Live for highlights and analysis.

Click here to watch the game or download the NBC Sports App, your home for live streaming coverage of the Blackhawks.

Five Things to Watch:

1. How will Blackhawks respond to worst loss of season?

The Blackhawks suffered their worst loss of the season on Saturday in a 7-0 rout at the hands of the Panthers. It was the first time they've lost by at least seven goals since 2011 when Edmonton beat them 9-2 and the first time they lost 7-0 since 2001 against San Jose; the Blackhawks lost to Washington 6-0 earlier this year. But by no means was Saturday their worst effort of the season. A questionable interference penalty by Marcus Kruger led to a two-man advantage, which Florida cashed in on with a goal and another shortly after, and it opened up the floodgates. Expect a big bounce-back against a hungry Lightning team.

2. Lightning fighting for playoff lives.

Every game is a must-win for the Lightning with eight games remaining on their schedule. They're three points out of the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference with a game in hand on the Bruins, who currently occupy that spot, but still have to jump the Islanders. The Lightning didn't do themselves any favors by losing three straight in regulation last week, but they've won two in a row and tonight will be the first of a four-game homestand for them.

3. Keep the puck off Nikita Kucherov's stick.

There isn't a hotter player in the NHL right now than Kucherov, who has seven goals and two assists in his last four games. He's had two hat tricks in the past month, and he ranks sixth in the league with 78 points and second in goals with 38. You know how lethal Artemi Panarin's slapshot is from the left faceoff circle? That's Kucherov, but on the right side.

4. Staying disciplined.

The Blackhawks are the second-least penalized team in the league, but they acted out of character Saturday by racking up 30 penalty minutes. They were also slapped with a pair of unsportsmanlike penalties, which isn't something you normally see from Joel Quenneville's teams. Ryan Hartman, who along with Marcus Kruger was penalized for "yapping" at the officials, accepted responsibility for it after the game, and insisted it "won't happen again."

5. Special teams to play key factor?

On the flip side, the Lightning are the second-most penalized team, averaging just over 11 penalty minutes per game. Power plays will be key for the Blackhawks in an effort to keep Tampa Bay's collection of talented young goal scorers off the ice. The Lightning also boast a top-five power play unit with a 22 percent success rate. Both teams would be better served staying out of the box and making this a 5-on-5 battle.

- Check out the latest stats and standings to make sure you’re ready for action

- Channel Finder: Make sure you know where to watch

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- Latest on the Blackhawks: All of the most recent news and notes

- See what Blackhawks fans are talking about before, during and after the game with Blackhawks Pulse

Will lopsided loss shake Blackhawks from their slumber?

Will lopsided loss shake Blackhawks from their slumber?

The Blackhawks have talked the past several games now about how they need to play better, how they need to get back to their 60-minute game. But even when you tell yourself you have to improve the message doesn't always translate into immediate action. That's especially true if, despite so-so play, you're still managing victories or still eking out a point.

Sometimes, you need a jolt to realize you have to get better. Well, that thud the Blackhawks made in South Florida ought to get their attention. 

The Blackhawks' 7-0 loss to the Florida Panthers on Saturday night, that "ugly, ugly game," as coach Joel Quenneville, is the latest in what's been a mediocre stretch for the team. They've been leaning on their goaltending again (please see Minnesota, Montreal, Ottawa and Dallas games). Or they've been leaning on their ability to wake up in the third period after sleepwalking through the first two. Sixty-minute games and four-line rotations, such a big part of the Blackhawks' success through February and early March, have been absent.

Call it the Blackhawks' mid-March malaise.

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It hasn't been more painful because the Blackhawks have still found ways to get points. Or at least they did until Saturday night, when two "yapping" penalties – Quenneville's (accurate) description of Ryan Hartman and Marcus Kruger's unsportsmanlike calls – started the Blackhawks' demise against the Panthers. Players told the traveling media following the game that this was a wake-up call. It ought to be.

Granted, the Blackhawks' late-season issues aren't as bad as some of their fellow Western Conference teams. The Minnesota Wild are 3-10-1 in March. The San Jose Sharks have lost six in a row. This also isn't the first time the Blackhawks have gone through this late-season mediocrity.

Entering the 2015 postseason they struggled to score goals and lost four in a row (five goals in those four games). It turned out alright. Still, best to avoid bad habits.

Perhaps the Blackhawks are in a bit of a swoon because, really, there's not much for which to play in these final few games. They don't care if they win the Presidents' Trophy (and they probably won't). They're currently in first place by seven points following the Wild's 3-2 overtime loss to Detroit on Sunday. Whether the Blackhawks finish first or second, they'll start this postseason at home. 

So is this panic-inducing? No. Is it a concern? Certainly. The Blackhawks can't start thinking they'll automatically flip the switch as soon as the postseason begins.

The Blackhawks want to get their four-line rotation going again. Artem Anisimov returning in the next week or two will certainly help that. They want to get their overall game going again. The Blackhawks have been telling themselves what needs to be done for a few games now. Maybe they needed a wake-up call. On Saturday, they got it.