Sharp`s hat trick and the Blackhawks skill too much for Devils - New York News

Sharp`s hat trick and the Blackhawks skill too much for the Devils

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

On Friday night New Jersey came out to avenge their December 23rd, 5-2 loss to the Blackhawks.

They did stay in the contest for 40 minutes but then the dam broke. The Hawks scored three goals in slightly more than four minutes at the beginning of the third frame and rolled on to a 5-3 victory.

The Blackhawks took some bad penalties and had some defensive lapse,s but their skilled players were too much for the Devils.

Antti Raanta had another strong outing and Patrick Sharp recorded his second hat trick of the season. Brandon Saad and Marian Hossa also tallied as the Blackhawks improved their record against Eastern Conference foes to 11-1-3.

Each player can play on almost any line, which was shown when Joel Quenneville moved Saad up to the second line and dropped Kris Versteeg down to the third line.

It looks like Saad will get his turn now in helping Patrick Kane tow around Michal Handzus. Handzus may hold his spot as the second line center for awhile but my gut says he won't be there at the end of the season.

Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith are locks to make Team Canada.

Three other Hawks are on the bubble but it would be a surprise if Sharp wasn't selected. Crawford has some stiff competition for the third goalie spot, but is in the hunt.

Brent Seabrook also has a tough road but being Keith's partner, playing on two Cup teams as well as the Gold Medal squad won't hurt his chances.

Seabrook and Sharp have really played well of late.

Sharp has been on a wicked pace recording 14 goals and seven assists in his last 13 games. Seabrook has two goals and five assists in his last six games. He ranks fourth among defensemen with 31 points and leads all defenders with a +22 plus minus.

The Blackhawks will face San Jose on Sunday night at the United Center. They will look to take advantage of a scheduling edge as the Sharks will play a Saturday matinee in Colorado.

Al"s Shots

Now that Corey Crawford is healthy it appears likely goalie Jason LaBarbera will be sent to Rockford. Raanta has earned the backup job over the more experienced LaBarbera.

There is no telling when or if Nikolai Khabibulin will play again.

The company line has been that Khabibulin isn't close to returning from injury. As long as he remains on long term injured reserve there are no real issues with the salary cap.

Actually, Khabibulin could stay in parts unknown mending until after the March 5 trade deadline, which is a week after the Olympic break ends.

If that were to happen Raanta could continue on with the big club for the rest of the season as rosters can expand after the trade deadline.

If Khabibulin was healthy enough to play sooner he could be put on waivers and sent to play in the AHL.

I don't think Khabibulin will be sent down, and he might not report anyway. If Khabibulin would opt to retire instead there would be no salary cap impact for this season.

I do believe Raanta could benefit with more playing time in Rockford if Khabibulin were to return soon. It would also be easier to get some practice work with the Icehogs than in Chicago with the more congested schedule.

However, all that assumes Khabibulin is coming back before the trade deadline and can play effectively, otherwise Raanta stays in Chicago.

My guess is Crawford could start 28 of the remaining 38 games, which would give him 54 starts on the season. In that case Raanta would get 10 more starts if Khabibulin is out of the mix.

Crawford played in 57 games in both 2011 and 2012 so his workload would be about the same. Quenneville could adjust the workload for each goaltender and Raanta will likely play in Rockford over the Olympic break. Crawford will get some additional rest if he isn't chosen for Team Canada.

You can follow me on Twitter @Al Cimaglia, and I will be back on Monday morning.

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