Predators winger Viktor Stalberg sees his second-period shot get turned away by Corey Crawford, but Stalberg scored in the third. | Bruce Kluckhohn/Getty Images
SHARKS AT BLACKHAWKS
The facts: 6 p.m., Ch. 9, 720-AM.
Updated: December 18, 2013 6:54AM
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — It’s not that Viktor Stalberg expected to just show up in Nashville and instantly do all the things he was never able to do in Chicago: become a top-line winger; a guy who plays 20 minutes a game; a 30-goal scorer.
But he didn’t think it would be this hard.
“You’ve got to deserve your ice time, deserve everything you get out there,” Stalberg said on Saturday morning, echoing a familiar refrain from his triumphant yet disappointing final two months with the Blackhawks. “Maybe I took it a little bit for granted at the start. … Coming off the [Stanley Cup] win and the short summer, I kind of thought it would be easier, maybe. But obviously, I got kind of a rude awakening here.”
Stalberg, who left Chicago and signed a four-year, $12 million contract with Nashville because he wanted a bigger role than he had with the Hawks over the past three seasons, missed two preseason games and then the first four games with a sprained right shoulder. And when he came back, he found himself in the same role he had in Chicago, the same role he was trying to escape — skating on the third line, playing 12 or 13 minutes a night.
Entering Saturday night’s game against the Hawks, Stalberg had just one goal and one assist — both in the same game — in 13 contests. It’s been getting better lately and Stalberg scored a third-period goal to give the Predators a 5-2 lead.
Nashville coach Barry Trotz said Stalberg has been one of his better forwards as the Predators have slogged through a miserable seven-game road trip that ended with four straight losses in which they scored just two goals.
While Stalberg expected big things right away, Trotz said the difficult transition from the offensive Hawks to the defensive Predators was inevitable.
“We don’t play like the Chicago Blackhawks,” Trotz said. “We don’t have the personnel up front to play like they do. A lot of things we have to do to be successful, they don’t do in Chicago.”
Patrick Sharp, who was traded from the Flyers to the Hawks in 2005, understands how difficult it is to break into a new team, and said Stalberg just needs some time.
“I’ve switched organizations once before, Philly to Chicago, and there is a lot that goes on,” Sharp said. “Not just on the ice, the hockey side of it, but off the ice — there’s a ton of changes. There’s a lot to get used to.”
Stalberg was happy to see some of his old teammates before the morning skate on Saturday, and was able to come back to Chicago for the ring ceremony because he was injured at the time.
Despite how things ended with the Hawks — Stalberg saw his ice time decrease in the playoffs and was benched by Joel Quenneville for the first two games against Detroit and the first two games of the Stanley Cup Final against Boston — he harbors no bad feelings toward his old team.
“We still won the Stanley Cup, and I still think I was a big part of that, so it was pretty optimal for me,” he said. “The way things ended with playing time and all that kind of stuff, that’s in the past, I can’t really think too much about that right now. It was unfortunate, but I still think I had three good years there and I had a great time those three years.”