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Thursday, May 29, 2014
Versteeg's rough postseason continues

By Scott Powers

CHICAGO -- Kris Versteeg's night ended long before his team's did on Wednesday.

A turnover by the Chicago Blackhawks forward in their zone led to a Los Angeles Kings goal at 11:04 of the second period of Game 5 of the Western Conference finals. The two teams went on to play 50 minutes and four seconds longer, but Versteeg never saw the ice again in the Blackhawks' 5-4 double-overtime victory.

Versteeg
Kris Versteeg's night ended early after a costly miscue in the second period.
Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville wouldn't elaborate on Versteeg's performance, but he didn't hide his dissatisfaction with Versteeg's play on the goal in the second period.

"Tough shift there," Quenneville said after the game. "He didn't see the ice after that, not so much."

A day later, Quenneville wouldn't say whether there will be line changes for Game 6 on Friday.

"It was a tough night, the one shift in particular," Quenneville said Thursday of Versteeg. "You just got to battle through it. It's a competitive game, not a lot of time, not a lot of space. You've got to do whatever you can to advance the puck and contribute."

Versteeg finished with nine shifts and 6:48 of ice time. He was also on the ice for the Kings' first goal and was a minus-2 for the game. His possession numbers were the second worst on the team. He had a 31.3 Corsi percentage (the Blackhawks had five shots for and 11 against with him on the ice in 5-on-5 situations), according to extraskater.com.

Versteeg's numbers weren't an anomaly. He's struggled throughout the series with the Kings and the playoffs. He's a minus-4 for the series and a minus-5 for the playoffs. He's been on the ice for three goals for and eight goals against in 5-on-5 situations in 14 playoff games this season.

Versteeg's possession numbers have also been among the team's lowest in the playoffs. He has a 42.7 Corsi for the playoffs. The only Blackhawks with worse Corsi percentages are Joakim Nordstrom (36.5), Michal Handzus (37.0), Brandon Bollig (38.6) and Peter Regin (40.0).

What all those players, including Versteeg, also have in common is they have all been made healthy scratches by Quenneville in the playoffs. Versteeg has already been sat twice -- he could only remember being a healthy scratch once before joining the Blackhawks this season -- and has had his minutes cut. He averaged 14:06 of ice time in the regular season for the Blackhawks and has played less than 10 minutes five times in the playoffs and more than 15 minutes twice.

But what those other players don't have in common with Versteeg is they aren't expected to be offensive threats. Versteeg was acquired in a trade with the Florida Panthers in November to give the Blackhawks another versatile forward who could score and defend. He scored 20-plus goals in three previous seasons, including with the Blackhawks in the 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons.

The offense hasn't consistently been there for him this season, especially in the playoffs. He had 10 goals and 19 assists in 63 regular-season games, and he has one goal and two assists in 14 playoff games.

Versteeg has admitted he came back too soon this season from a serious knee injury he suffered last season, but the Blackhawks still expected more out of him. General manager Stan Bowman touted trading for Versteeg as the team's major in-season move.

"Early on we picked up Jason LaBarbera, and we made our big move back in November [to get Versteeg]," Bowman said on March 1 prior to the trade deadline. "We did that intentionally to try to get a player in for a longer period of time. I think sometimes it's hard, a guy comes in for a couple weeks and then you jump into the playoffs and you can't get him acclimated to your system and the way you play and who you're going to play with."

Bowman liked the way Versteeg had played up to that point. He had seven goals and 14 assists through 41 games and was playing a variety of roles.

"Kris has been really good for us," Bowman said in March. "I'm excited for how it's worked out. We talked at the time that we made the deal that he gives us that versatility. We like that he can play all around our lineup, and he's done that so far.

"But I think we've utilized the one thing, which was he can play in different situations. He's played on the power play, so he gets some special-teams time, and it took him a little time when we got him early on. He hadn't played a lot of hockey. He had the injury, and he was just sort of getting his groove. Now that he's been around with us for a while, he fits in good.

"So down the stretch, I like the fact that he can move around and gives the coaching staff some options too, which Joel likes to take advantage of."

Versteeg's play dipped after that. He had three goals and five assists over the last 21 regular-season games and didn't have a goal in the final nine games. Quenneville played him on the top line in Game 1 of their first-round series with the St. Louis Blues and he had 29:01 of ice time in the three-overtime game. From there, his minutes began to decrease and his role was minimized. He's been on the fourth line at times in the playoffs.

Versteeg hasn't been too vocal throughout the playoffs about his reduced role, trying to be a team player.

"You always want to play," Versteeg said on May 11. "It's always up to the coaches and you've got to understand that. They go with what they believe and you have to also understand there's a process. It's not a sprint, it's a marathon, but I just want to play."

How much Versteeg will get to play from here on out is unknown.