NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- As the Chicago Blackhawks welcomed a familiar face back to their lineup in the form of Kris Versteeg ahead of Saturday’s game against the Predators, they also prepared to look across the ice for the first time at a pair of former teammates, winger Viktor Stalberg and goaltender Carter Hutton, both of whom departed for Nashville this summer in search of a fresh start.
Stalberg, who spent three seasons in Chicago but saw his ice time dwindle as the team closed in on its second Stanley Cup in four years, signed a four-year, $12 million deal with the Predators in the offseason but he missed the first four games of the season with a shoulder injury and has struggled to mesh with the offense since returning to action, tallying only two points in 13 games so far.
“Coming off the (Stanley Cup) win and the short summer and all that, you sort of thought it was going to be easier, maybe,” Stalberg said. “But obviously, I got kind of a rude awakening there, and getting hurt didn’t really help either because you wanted those exhibition games to get those legs from the short summer out of you, and I really didn’t have a chance to do that.”
Nashville head coach Barry Trotz pointed to the organizations’ contrasting styles as a potential reason for Stalberg’s adjustment period.
“We don’t play like the Chicago Blackhawks,” Trotz said. “We don’t have the personnel up front to play like they do, so a lot of things that we have to do to be successful, they don’t do in Chicago just because of the way they play. But he’s played better. Probably on the road trip, he’s been one of our more effective forwards.”
“I think he was a good player when he was here,” Chicago right wing Patrick Kane said of Stalberg. “He contributed a lot to the Blackhawks organization and to our team, and it’s always sad to see guys like that go, but sometimes change is good and it’s time to move on, and I wish him all the best.”
Stalberg admitted to some extra nerves hours before his first on-ice reunion with his former teammates -- emotions he hoped to channel into a breakthrough on the scoresheet.
“We still won a Stanley Cup, and I still think I was a big part of that, so that was pretty optimal for me,” Stalberg said. “Obviously, 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 great years there, and I had a great time all those three years.”
With starting goalie Pekka Rinne sidelined due to a bacterial infection in his hip, Hutton has been given the opportunity to prove his value as a regular starter in Nashville, but his performances have been mixed during the team’s slow start. The 27-year-old netminder posted a 26-22 record in 51 games for Rockford last season and made his NHL debut for Chicago in late April, but he was passed over when Nikolai Khabibulin was brought in over the summer to back up Corey Crawford.
“I put a lot of games in in Rockford and had a chance to play, but I guess they had other feelings for me and they went with Khabibulin, an older guy,” Hutton said. “That’s the way it works. It’s hockey, that’s the business side of it, you can’t really control that. I can only control my game and what I can bring to the table, and also being able to come here and have a chance to be in the NHL was important to me.”
Riding a 7-0-1 hot streak into Saturday’s action, the Blackhawks expect to exchange any unresolved pleasantries before the puck drops on the division foes’ first meeting this season.
“I’m sure the guys will get a better feeling for that down on the ice, be it in warm-up or when the game starts or at faceoff,” Chicago head coach Joel Quenneville said. “I’m sure that’s a good reflection for them. Stalberg got us a Cup, and Carter gets a chance to play. For him, that’s great. It’s a good opportunity for both of them as well. We want to make sure we’re playing our game, don’t change too much, and don’t change your approach when you’re out there against them as well.”