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Viktor Stalberg making fast progress on second line

Joel Quenneville said Viktor Stalberg had “special game” Thursday against Blues. | Nam Y. Huh~AP

Joel Quenneville said Viktor Stalberg had a “special game” Thursday against the Blues. | Nam Y. Huh~AP

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at Predators

The facts: 7, Ch. 9, 720-AM.

Updated: May 1, 2012 8:34AM

Typically, stars such as Patrick Kane or Marian Hossa are praised for dominating a game despite not denting the scoresheet.

But Viktor Stalberg had one of those games Thursday, and it came against the St. Louis Blues, the stingiest team in the NHL.

“It was a special game for him,” coach Joel Quenneville said after the Hawks defeated the Blues 4-3 in a shootout. “I know he’s had some good games, but I’d put that in the list at the top of it, as far as the impact and the influence he had shift to shift. I thought his linemates [Patrick Sharp and Marcus Kruger] complemented him as well.”

It’s just another indication of the progress Stalberg, once called an “intriguing package” by general manager Stan Bowman, has made in just his second full NHL season. As Quenneville said, he no longer is the one always complementing others.

Sharp still might be the driving force behind the second line’s success, but Stalberg’s speed and overall improvement have carried the line for shifts. The way Sharp, Kruger and Stalberg have played together raises the argument that they should stick together once center Jonathan Toews (concussion) returns.

Last year, Stalberg whizzed past everyone, but he missed on scoring chances. He also stayed to the outside too much. Now, Stalberg said he has learned how to use that game-breaking speed more effectively.

“I’m getting better at slowing down and accelerating than I have in the past, instead of just going full speed the whole way,” said Stalberg, who had one assist against the Blues. “I’ve gotten more confidence in terms of where to use it and when not to, where you can try and make a move and beat a guy.”

Stalberg’s centers like using that speed, too. When Stalberg was on Dave Bolland’s checking line, Bolland said he preferred to flip the puck out of the zone or bounce it off the boards and let Stalberg chase it to nullify opponents’ time in the offensive zone.

“I think I’ve been a lot more effective in all zones,” Stalberg said. “I’m getting more starts in our own end and little things like that. It shows the confidence in me coming from the coaches.”

But they’re not ready to use him on the power play. All of Stalberg’s 40 points have come at even strength. He has played only 22:46 on the power play all season. Part of the issue is that Stalberg is best used on the outside, while the spot most often switched on the power play is in front of the net.

“I obviously want to be there,” Stalberg said. “Everyone wants to be on the power play. But looking at our depth in our lineup in terms of what spots I could take on the power play, it’s pretty tough to take Kane, Hossa, Toews or Sharp out of that, either down low or the half-board spots. It’s not much of a case to argue. It’s just how it is.”

That hasn’t prevented the 26-year-old from making an impact. Stalberg has three goals and eight points in the last nine games.

“The key to our line is [Stalberg’s] speed,” Sharp said. “He gets on every puck, and you can see the confidence in his game grow and grow every night.”

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