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Sharp healing, eyeing opening-night return


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If it were up to him, Chicago Blackhawks star forward
Patrick Sharp would lace up his skates for Friday's home preseason game against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Instead, he'll settle for participating in his first official team practice of the new season -- which he did Friday morning at the United Center. Sharp still is recovering from an emergency appendectomy performed Sept. 12, a few days before the start of training camp.

He still has stitches from the procedure, but told reporters after his post-practice conditioning work that he keeps healing steadily.

"It felt good," Sharp said of practicing. "It's always nice to kind of rejoin the team. I've done my best to hang around the guys and watch practice and all the inter-squad games and all that, but it's not quite the same when you're not participating in the drills."

Sharp's status is day-to-day and the Hawks are taking a conservative approach. Coach Joel Quenneville said Sharp will continue to practice with the team for the rest of camp barring any setbacks, but won't get into the final preseason game, Sunday in Washington.

Chicago's regular-season opener is in Dallas on Oct. 7, and Sharp still is targeting that game for his return to the active roster.

"There's some stitches in there, so I'm supposed to take it easy with the shooting and skating, but I feel fine out there," he said. "There's no limitations and I feel like hopefully I can be back soon. I don't want to miss any (regular-season) games and that's what our goal has been all along. I'd like to play tonight if I could. It's just a matter of passing tests."

Quenneville certainly liked what he saw in Sharp's first practice.

"He looked good," Quenneville said. "He was skating well and he said he felt well and it was really the first time he's gotten into (a practice) with us. The way we're going to look at it with him, you get him into practices all next week … we're hopefully he'll be able to start (in Dallas)."

Sharp put up career-high offensive numbers last season while splitting time between left wing on the top line and center on the second line. He had 34 goals and 71 points in 74 games despite missing an extended stretch near the end of the season with a sprained knee.

This season, Sharp hopes to better those stats -- especially if he spends extended amounts of time at left wing on the top line with Hawks captain Jonathan Toews at center. Currently, Chicago is experimenting with star right wing Patrick Kane at center on the second line -- with good results in his first preseason game against the Detroit Red Wings.

If it works long-term, there's a chance Sharp could become a permanent fixture on the top line. What does he think could happen if he played there all season?

"I'd like to think I could pass 36 goals," he said. "Especially with a centerman like Johnny, I can take a few more chances offensively. Just because you're on the wing doesn't give you a green light to do whatever you want. Everyone's got responsibilities out there, but I feel like offensively I create more as a winger. But whatever position I play, I'm going to try and set personal highs in whatever categories."

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