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Confident Viktor Stalberg steps up his production

Updated: January 26, 2012 8:18AM

Forward Viktor Stalberg has noticed a big difference between his first and second seasons with the Blackhawks.

“We certainly got off to a better start this year, and we know that we can play with more confidence,” Stalberg said.

Stalberg’s growing ­confidence has made a difference for the Hawks. Coach Joel Quenneville has become ­comfortable using him to ­enhance any of his four lines.

Stalberg, whom general manager Stan Bowman describes as an “intriguing package” because of his speed and size, has responded with seven goals and 20 points in 32 games. He has plenty of time remaining to surpass his career high of 24 points last season. In his last three games, Stalberg has two goals, five points and a plus-5 rating.

“Overall, we’re seeing a ­better hockey player over time,” Quenneville said. “He’s ­improving his puck protection. We love his speed; he’s got a nice shot. But he seems more influential in the puck area, winning in the puck-battle ­areas more than his share, which is good to see. He can do a lot of good things with [the puck].”

Stalberg doesn’t have the benefit of enhancing his point totals on the power play, seeing just 5 minutes, 59 seconds of ice time while the Hawks have had the man advantage.

All of his 20 points have come at even strength, which trails Patrick Sharp’s even-strength total by just four. Stalberg, 25, has provided depth production, and he knows he could have more too, missing on a couple great opportunities.

“I feel like I’m getting first to loose pucks,” he said. “I’m still getting those chances beating guys wide and setting up chances, too. It’s just a matter of working hard and things will hopefully go our way.”

If Stalberg is going to be used in a checking role as he has recently, he knows being physical is crucial. He’s spent ample time learning his defensive assignments and other techniques, but his speed can disrupt things before opponents can get going offensively.

“I think about that a little bit more, being physical,” Stalberg said. “I’m not going to be the guy running around just trying to hit people and get out of position. But if I’m first on the forecheck, I’m certainly in position to finish my checks and make it hard on defensemen.”

Looking for more

Patrick Kane leads the Hawks with 25 assists, but his nine goals aren’t close to good enough in his opinion. The talented forward hopes to regain his scoring touch soon.

“I probably could be playing a little bit better,” Kane said. “It would be nice to start scoring some goals and putting up some points and numbers. But that comes with playing the right way. Sometimes you get a goal and it sparks you a little bit.”

Kane and center Jonathan Toews have seen their left wing change often since they’ve been reunited. Stalberg, Daniel Carcillo, Jeremy Morin and, most recently, Andrew Brunette have played opposite of Kane.

“I guess, it’s trial and error, but we don’t mind different wingers,” Kane said.

On the mend

The four-day Christmas break comes at good time for the Hawks who have some bumps and bruises to mend. Marcus Kruger and Carcillo can definitely benefit from the time off as they recover from their head injuries.

“We hope that they’ll both be ready to get back playing [after the break],” Quenneville said.

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