<
>

Viktor Stalberg's breakout year continues

CHICAGO -- Chicago Blackhawks forward Viktor Stalberg simply won’t admit to it, or maybe he really doesn’t believe it.

Stalberg scored two more goals in the Hawks’ 4-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets Monday night, stretching his multi-point streak to three games. He has seven points in his last four contests but, still, he won’t say he’s playing the best of his young career.

“I think I’m playing all right,” Stalberg said afterwards. “The pucks are coming a lot to me right now and sometimes when you start scoring a little bit you get a little more confident out there. Right now [the puck’s] a lot on my stick and it feels good playing out there.”

Stalberg scored both his goals in the second period to stretch a 1-0 Hawks lead to 3-0. He followed his own shot with a second one to tally his first goal and then went to the open area, where Dave Bolland found him, to score his second.

“Viktor Stalberg is improving. I think more so his patience with the puck, or his awareness,” Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “He’s getting better in puck protection, which is something he needs to improve on.”

“Awareness” might be the best word Quenneville used. It’s more than just some lucky bounces, as a humble Stalberg would have people believe. He’s figuring something out.

“I can relate to how he’s feeling,” Patrick Sharp, who has 19 goals this season, said. “He’s been playing well all season long. We’re all noticing him finally because the puck is going in, but he has great speed, a great shot and that’s about it, right Vik?”

Sharp looked to Stalberg at the next locker stall for confirmation but Stalberg just shook his head. Maybe he doesn’t want to jinx anything that’s going so well. And consider Stalberg’s run has come during 5-on-5 play. No cheap power-play points from his stick. His nine goals and 13 assists have been earned the hard way.

“I’m pretty happy with that,” Stalberg said. “I think that’s a good accomplishment, being able to score 5-on-5. I want to keep producing. I have to keep shooting the puck, I’m going to get those goals.”

So what about some power-play time? Quenneville would only say “we’ll see” when asked if Stalberg has earned any.

“You always want to play more, there’s no hiding that fact,” Stalberg said. “Sometimes you have to force the hand, keep playing well and see what happens.”

With two more points Stalberg will match last season’s total and the Hawks haven’t even hit the halfway mark yet. Soon enough he may have to admit the obvious: he’s having a breakout year.