Edmonton Oilers v Chicago Blackhawks
Updated: February 14, 2014 6:25AM
It was a spirited middleweight bout at best, a flailing playground fight at worst. But the scrap Kris Versteeg picked with the Montreal Canadiens’ Brendan Gallagher on Saturday wasn’t meant to set pay-per-view records or settle any scores.
Versteeg was just trying to inject a little life into his team — and into himself.
“I do it the odd time here and there,” he said. “Not as much as I used to, but you try to bring different intangibles to the game in different ways, and it seemed like the right time.”
Versteeg, like many of his teammates, has struggled to find his game as the Hawks have muddled through a listless start to 2014. After Sunday’s game against the Edmonton Oilers, he has failed to score a goal in eight consecutive games, with just one assist in that span. It’s gotten to the point where Versteeg wasn’t even sure if having his deflection goal Saturday waved off gave him a boost of confidence or deepened his frustration.
“You find the back of the net, and it gets disallowed,” he said. “Sometimes it’s a bit of a shot in the arm in a good way, and sometimes it’s in a bad way.”
It’s been nearly two months since Versteeg’s career got the injection of life it desperately needed when the Hawks reacquired him from the Florida Panthers, where he languished near the bottom of the standings, and struggled to regain form after suffering a season-ending knee injury last March. Versteeg had four points in his first four games with the Hawks, and became a fixture on Patrick Kane’s line with five goals and six assists in an 11-game span in December.
Versteeg also said that — unlike earlier in the season — he doesn’t even think about his knee anymore, though he acknowledged it won’t be as strong as before until he has a full summer to strengthen it.
But like many Hawks, his production has all but vanished over the last couple of weeks.
“I know a lot of guys try to do too much and they overthink things at times,” he said. “For myself it goes like that, too. But you’ve just got to get back to being simple and trying to get to the net and hopefully something goes in.”
Off the ice, Versteeg has emerged as another strong presence in the dressing room — the same well-liked, free spirit he was as a rookie, but now with a veteran’s poise. For example, he’s one of the few Hawks who makes himself available to the media after every game, win or lose. He called it “part of the job” and chalked it up to “growing up.”
That maturity and perspective can only help during slumps, too — be they individual or team-wide.
“Some of the guys are maybe grabbing the sticks a little too tight,” Versteeg said. “But we have enough guys in here that can get the job done. Just got to keep going with what got you here, and being confident in your abilities.”