CHICAGO – Joel Quenneville suddenly has an interesting situation to mull over in regard to his lineup.
Now that forward Daniel Carcillo has served a two-game suspension for an illegal hit from behind, where will he be slotted when he returns to the Chicago Blackhawks' lineup?
If he goes back to left wing on the second line with Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa, that likely means Patrick Sharp will go to the top line once again and move red-hot Viktor Stalberg back to the fourth line. Stalberg, who moved from the fourth line to the first after Carcillo's suspension, scored his third goal in two games and second game-winner in a row on Monday night at the United Center – ending a nail biter in overtime against the pesky Nashville Predators for a 5-4 win.
If he's asked to go back to the fourth line, Stalberg will do it without complaining – but he's also hoping his play in the last two games gives Quenneville something to think about.
"It's a lot tougher to play the puck-possession game when you're playing eight to 10 minutes a game (on the fourth line)," said Stalberg, who has played with Hawks captain Jonathan Toews and Andrew Brunette the past two games. "The past two games I've almost been double shifting … and on special teams he finds ways to get me out there with a little more ice time. It feels good when you get that. I feel like I can keep my game going better when I'm out there a little more."
It looked like Stalberg had the inside track to a spot among Chicago's top six forwards during training camp before he sprained his knee late in the preseason. He missed the start of the season and was put on the fourth line when he returned, mostly because Kane's second line was producing with Carcillo on the left wing.
It's not likely that Brunette will move down, but anything is possible with Quenneville – who likes to mix and match his forwards to get what he thinks is the best fit.
"I felt great in training camp and it seemed like I was going to get a chance to start with those top six guys and obviously the knee injury set me back," said Stalberg, whose goal came 2:18 into overtime after he slid a shot past Nashville's Pekka Rinne on the short side. "They played great, those top two lines (before and after) I got back and you can't really do much about it other than keep working hard and hopefully you get your chance. When you get your chance, you've got to take it."
The question is did he do enough to take it this time? He's certainly stated his case the past two games.
"He's so fast and he's got a great shot," said Kane, who led the Hawks offensively with a pair of goals and an assist. "We've seen what he can do in practice. He's a great talent. Hopefully this kind of gets him moving and going forward, because he can be a big player for us."
Stalberg's heroics, however, were just the capper to a game filled with twists, turns and subplots.
Aside from Kane's big night, Marian Hossa added three assists and both Patrick Sharp and Brent Seabrook added a pair of helpers each for multi-point games. Young defenseman Nick Leddy also potted a goal, his second of the season, and now has seven points in 11 games – as much as he had in 46 games last season in Chicago.
Leddy's defense partner, Duncan Keith, also left the game in the second period with an upper-body injury and didn't return. Quenneville listed Keith as day-to-day.
The Predators also had a good night offensively.
Nashville (5-4-2) took three separate leads and played the Hawks tough with three injured skaters sitting out – including top-line center Mike Fisher (upper body) and top-line forward Sergei Kostitsyn (lower body). The Preds were also without third-line forward Nick Spaling, who might be out for an extended period with a lower-body injury of his own.
Patric Hornqvist and David Legwand led the Nashville attack. Hornqvist potted a pair of goals for his third straight game with at least one marker and Legwand assisted on Hornqvist's first before tying the game 4-4 late in the third – just 1:41 after Bryan Bickell gave Chicago its first lead.
Preds rookie Craig Smith also added his fourth goal in 11 games while filling in at center on the top line in place of Fisher, while Rinne made some outstanding saves to help Nashville earn a point. He came up especially big during a pair of 5-on-3 situations for the Hawks, who finished 0-for-7 on the power play and saw their ranking of 27th in the League with the man-advantage sink even lower.
"We'll take the point," Nashville coach Barry Trotz said. "I liked our resiliency, I liked a lot of things we did, but I didn't like the way we mismanaged the game in terms of twice (having) 5-on-3 long penalty kills. (The) penalty killing was outstanding, with (Rinne) being outstanding. He made some unbelievable saves. They were doing some backdoor stuff, and he got across as well as anybody. That was huge."
Hornqvist's first goal was also a record-setter. Scored just 26 seconds into the game, the goal gave Nashville back-to-back games with markers scored in less than 30 seconds of the first period – which is the first time that's happened in the franchise's history.
After a dump-in by Kevin Klein eluded Corey Crawford behind the net, Legwand pounced on the puck near the boards and fired a quick shot that hit the left post and went straight to Hornqvist in front of the crease. He flicked it home backhanded with Crawford out of the net and just that quickly the Preds were up 1-0.
Hornqvist also scored just 16 seconds into Nashville's previous game this past weekend. The last team to pull off the fast feat was the Philadelphia Flyers in 2002 and the last single player to score both of the goals in back-to-back games was former Vancouver Canucks star Pavel Bure, who did it in 1998.
Hornqvist's second goal came with just 1:12 left in the second and gave Nashville a 3-2 lead heading into the third, but the momentum built was short-lived. Chicago outshot the Preds 18-8 in the third and 3-0 in overtime – tying it on Kane's second of the game early in the third, going ahead on Bickell's late marker and ending it on Stalberg's in OT.
The Hawks have now recorded at least a point in all seven of their home games, which is something they struggled to do early last season. That's big because they now have just four home games for the rest of November and play four of the next five on the road before a six-game trip out West and into Western Canada.
"It's been a good start at home," Quenneville said. "Last year it was a disappointing start. We got points on our home ice here, but I'm excited about how we have to play on the road here in November. We need to make sure there's some consistency just like we have in our home game."
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