Blackhawks

Stalberg's game maturing

638422.png

Stalberg's game maturing

Viktor Stalberg celebrated his 26th birthday on Tuesday. And as Stalberg gains a year in his life, hes also gaining maturity in his game.

Stalberg has flourished lately, and has set new career highs in goals (14) and points (28). He garnered NHL second-star honors for his performance last week, when he scored five goals -- including his first career hat trick -- and an assist.

Not bad statistics for a guy who moved up and down the four lines earlier this season. Stalbergs found his newest niche with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane; and those linemates, coupled with Stalbergs talent, has led to big production.

Hes brought good energy to that line, coach Joel Quenneville said. It seemed liked he was more effective in the puck area. He finishes plays, and makes some on his own as well. He had an outstanding week. Putting that (consistency) in, game in and game out, hes really helped himself this year.

Perhaps, all Stalberg needed was time. Although hes now 26, its easy to forget that Stalberg is still a relatively new guy in the NHL. This is just his third season; make that two and a half seasons since he played just 39 games with the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2009-10 season.

Stalberg showed spurts of potential last season, but now hes catching on in all areas. He a few games with the checking line, too, and said even things he picked up in that short stint help him now.

Playing with (Dave Bolland), I had the puck a little more and maybe I realized I could do a little more, Stalberg said. Even with Kane and Toews I still have to use my assets. I know I can hold onto the puck a little bit, make some plays.

Teammates have noticed Stalbergs progress this season.

The best part of his game lately has been his relentlessness on the puck, said Jamal Mayers, who has been Stalbergs linemate this season. Hes such a quick guy that even when he loses the puck hes got a quick stick. When youre playing with two great players (Kane and Toews) like he is, hes able to sustain the attack by stealing pucks.

Hes coming into his own on what hes capable of doing, and starting to see some of the rewards for his hard work, Mayers said.

Stalberg turned a year older on Tuesday. His games been maturing right along, too.

Hes come along since the beginning of the year. The little things that compliment his speed and his shot and his skills, general hockey instincts, he seems to be progressing, Quenneville said. Hes more reactionary than hesitant, and that speeds a great asset. Hes more predictable where hes going to be. He seems to be improving in that area.

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks hit road to face Blue Jackets

2-24_blue-jackets_matchup_nhl_chi_blank.jpg
NBC Sports Chicago

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks hit road to face Blue Jackets

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Columbus Blue Jackets tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. One big reunion.

The Blackhawks will square off with the Blue Jackets for the first time since Oct. 7, which was the second game of the season. In that game, they won 5-1 led by Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Brandon Saad, each of whom scored a goal and added an assist.

Of course, that was the first game since the offseason trade that sent Artemi Panarin to Columbus and Saad back to Chicago, along with Anton Forsberg. Artem Anisimov, of course, was part of the original deal that sent Saad to Columbus in 2015, so there are a lot of emotional ties between the two teams.

Forsberg didn't get a chance to face the Blue Jackets in the first meeting, but there's a chance he will this time with it being the second of a back-to-back and Jean-Francois Berube getting the start in Friday's 3-1 win over San Jose.

2. Panarin and Kane bromance.

The emotions of a difficult break-up have probably died down by now, but Panarin and Kane gave us this moment at center ice during pregame warmups in their first game against each other and it hit Chicago right in the feels:

Panarin has spent enough time apart from Kane for people to realize how big of a star he is in his own right, leading the Blue Jackets in all three scoring categories: goals (17), assists (32) and points (49).

He hasn't gone more than three games this season without recording a point, and is looking to extend his point streak to four games, which would tie a season high.

3. Struggling Blue Jackets special teams.

The Blue Jackets got off to a great start but are barely clinging onto a wild card spot going into Saturday's game, and a big reason for that slide is their lack of success on special teams. Usually one can pick up the slack for the other, but they've been brutal in both departments.

The Blue Jackets are 0-for-9 on the power play in their past five games and are ranked 31st overall, converting on only 14.1 percent of their opportunities. They also have own the 27th-ranked penalty kill with a 76.3 percent success rate.

So if there's an area the Blackhawks can exploit, it's that. But, you know, still be mindful of that Russian winger's one-timer from the faceoff circle.

Jean-Francois Berube impressed in his first Blackhawks start

2-23_berube_schmaltz_usat.jpg
USA TODAY

Jean-Francois Berube impressed in his first Blackhawks start

Jean-Francois Berube got his first start of the season on Friday night, and it couldn't have gone any better.

The 26-year-old goaltender stopped 42 of 43 shots, a career-high for him in saves, in the Blackhawks' 3-1 win over the San Jose Sharks at the United Center.

Since Corey Crawford went down with a head injury last December, the Blackhawks have been searching for consistency in the crease. 

The pair of Anton Forsberg and Jeff Glass — who was assigned to Rockford on Feb. 15 and replaced with Berube — have had their ups and downs since then. With the Blackhawks out of the playoff picture, Berube had an opportunity showcase his skills, and he didn't disappoint.

"We were very happy with him," said coach Joel Quenneville. "I thought he did a great job. He was comfortable. I thought he was very patient in his net. Absorbing a lot of pucks with people in front of him was good. Closed some gaps and got … of the top of the paint. Rebound control was effective. Nice response from a long absence."

Berube's last — and only — appearance with the Blackhawks prior to Friday's game came on Dec. 6, relieving Forsberg in a game against the Washington Capitals. He recorded 12 saves of 14 shots. 

When Crawford got injured, Berube was the primary candidate to become the team's backup goaltender. The only problem? He was injured too, so the Blackhawks promoted Glass.

"I didn't want to sit and think about it," Berube said of his injury. "At the same time, it was great for Glasser. He was one of those guys that probably deserved it earlier in his career and he finally got his chance. Sometimes you need a guy to go down to have your chance. So I was mostly happy for him.

On Friday night, he got his chance.

"You always want to have a good impression for your first game," Berube said. "I know what I can do at this level, so it was just a matter of getting the opportunity to play and showing people what I can do."

Celebrating his 22nd birthday, Nick Schmaltz also had a goal and an assist. Artem Anisimov scored an empty-netter.

"It's a lot more fun coming to the rink when you're winning, enjoying each other, playing well as a team," Schmaltz said of the Blackhawks' win, which have now won three of their last four games. "Hopefully we can keep that good energy and bring it to the rink every day, and build off of that.

"You never know where this team can go, a lot of great players, lots of guys that have had a lot of success. Hopefully we can continue to put together solid efforts."