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Predators' Stalberg excited to play former team

by John Manasso

NASHVILLE -- Since signing a free-agent contract with the Nashville Predators in July, things have not worked out exactly the way Viktor Stalberg would have liked.

Entering his first game against his old team, the Chicago Blackhawks, on Saturday at Bridgestone Arena, Stalberg has one goal and one assist in 13 games to go with a minus-4 rating. Nashville tied the Florida Panthers last season for fewest goals scored and expected big things from Stalberg, 27, who scored 22 goals in his last full season and had nine last year.

The game comes as Nashville has lost four straight by an aggregate 17-2 score. Chicago has not lost in regulation since Oct. 26, a span of eight games.

"You've got to deserve your ice time, deserve everything you get out there," said Stalberg, who averages 13:06 per game, which ranks 11th among 15 Predators forwards. "I might have taken that for granted at the start. Obviously the last couple of games have been tough for us, but you've got to do everything you can to get back on track and start producing."

It didn't help Stalberg, whose contract is worth $12 million over four years, that he suffered a shoulder injury and missed the last few weeks of training camp and the first few weeks of the regular season.

"Coming off the [Stanley Cup] win and short summer, I thought it would be a little easier, maybe," Stalberg said. "Obviously, I got a rude awakening there and getting hurt didn't really help either. You wanted the exhibition games to get the legs under you from the short summer and you don't have a chance to do that, so [I was] playing catch-up a little bit the first couple of games but it feels like lately it's been better."

Learning to play in the Predators' style has proven a major adjustment for Stalberg. At the season's onset, Nashville coach Barry Trotz said Stalberg likely would have been put on the Predators' top line had he gone through a full training camp and started the season healthy.

Trotz has instead played Stalberg in more of a second- and third-line role.

"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 the things we do or have to do to be successful, they don't do in Chicago."

Trotz said Stalberg has "been one of our more effective players" over the seven-game, 17-day road trip the Predators ended Friday.

Though it's hard to be sour about winning the Cup -- which Stalberg definitely was not Saturday -- the Swedish forward did not have the ideal postseason. A healthy scratch at times for Chicago, he did not score and had three assists and a minus-1 rating in 19 postseason games.

"Obviously we still won the Stanley Cup," said Stalberg, who flew to Chicago when the Blackhawks received their rings; he was injured at the time. "I still think I was a big part of it so that was pretty optimal for me. Obviously, the way things ended with playing time and things like that, that's in the past. I can't really think too much about that. That was unfortunate. I had three pretty good years there."

Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said competing on the ice against a former teammate is something players feel more than coaches. In his assessment, the group of former Blackhawks includes Nashville goalie Carter Hutton, the likely starter Saturday who was part of the Blackhawks organization for two seasons and made his NHL debut with Chicago last April.

"I'm sure the guys have a better feeling for that down on the ice, in the warm-ups and when the game starts," Quenneville said. "It's reflection for them. Stally got us a Cup and Carter gets a chance to play for him. It's great. It's an opportunity for both of them as well."

When it comes to the game Saturday, Stalberg dispelled the notion that all games are the same.

"I'm sure I'll be a little more excited than any other game," he said. "The first time you face your old team is pretty special and the first game back in Chicago playing against them will be special too. I'll probably be a little more nervous than a normal game but at the same time it'll be fun going out there and we'll do everything we can to stop their streak here."

Here are the projected lineups for the Blackhawks and Predators:


Patrick Sharp - Jonathan Toews - Marian Hossa

Brandon Saad - Brandon Pirri - Patrick Kane

Bryan Bickell - Andrew ShawKris Versteeg

Brandon Bollig - Marcus Kruger - Ben Smith

Duncan Keith - Brent Seabrook

Johnny Oduya - Niklas Hjalmarsson

Nick Leddy - Sheldon Brookbank

Nikolai Khabibulin

Corey Crawford

Scratched: Michal Rozsival

Injured: Michal Handzus (upper body), Michael Kostka (foot)


Gabriel Bourque - David Legwand - Patric Hornqvist

Colin WilsonMike Fisher - Viktor Stalberg

Craig Smith - Matt Cullen - Filip Forsberg

Matt Hendricks - Paul GaustadRich Clune

Roman Josi - Shea Weber

Seth Jones - Kevin Klein

Victor Bartley - Ryan Ellis

Carter Hutton

Marek Mazanec

Scratched: Nick Spaling, Mattias Ekholm

Injured: Pekka Rinne (hip), Eric Nystrom (upper body)

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