Less than 24 hours after being a healthy scratch in Thursday’s game against Winnipeg, Nashville Predators forward Viktor Stalberg was very honest about where things stand for him through the team’s first 11 games.
Stalberg suffered a shoulder injury in the middle of preseason and missed the first four games of the regular season. His first six games in a Predators uniform went by without him registering a point. He is simply trying to play catch up as he returns from injury, which is tough to do in a brand new system.
“We have to make a short-term decision for a long-term gain,” Head Coach Barry Trotz said of making Stalberg a scratch on Thursday. “As Viktor gets his game in order with us, I think he’ll be fine.”
Stalberg isn’t blaming anyone but himself for his slow start after signing a four-year contract with the Predators in July.
“It’s never fun watching. It’s embarrassing, too. I have to be better,” he said. “It’s up to me to make a difference out there. I’ll do everything I can once I get back in [the lineup] to try to get it going. I have to be better. You can’t feel sorry for yourself or be sour. There is a long ways to go and some new things going on here, so sometimes you have to take a step back to hopefully take two forward.”
The 27-year-old speedster has appreciated the one-on-one communication from Trotz. Over the last two weeks both parties have been honest about Stalberg’s struggles, publicly and privately. In the past he’s had coaches that wouldn’t communicate as much under similar circumstances.
“I don’t think [Chicago Blackhawks Head Coach Joel] Quenneville is that talkative to guys in general. He just said ‘You’re not playing.’ That was frustrating at times. Coach Trotz has been great with that,” Stalberg said. “He’s really a player’s coach and talks to us, makes sure we know what’s going on and shows video to us and takes time with everybody. He just wants more out of me.
“I don’t think we have any disagreement, except for how he wants me to play and that’s where it stands right now. Nashville is a team that plays very strict and very different from a lot of other teams in the NHL. It takes a while to get used to that.”
Stalberg mentioned Wednesday that Trotz wants him to battle harder and be tougher in all areas of the game. Coming back from a preseason injury, Stalberg finds himself in a similar situation to a former Predator that had a hard time getting acclimated to Trotz’s system.
Before the 2010-11 regular season began, newly-acquired Sergei Kostitsyn broke a bone in his foot, missed the first two games and took a while to get going offensively. He had three points through 19 games, and the experiment was close to becoming a failure. Something clicked when the calendar turned to December, though, as Kostitsyn finished tied for the team lead in scoring with 50 points.
“You want a player to get back real quick in a new system and new environment. You saw what happened with Sergei, it took him a little while and then he ended up being one of our leading scorers that year,” Trotz said. “We’re fortunate right now that we have some good depth.”
Stalberg’s role has been limited when he has been in the lineup. He is averaging 11:20 of ice time thus far, as he has mostly skated on the team’s fourth line.
As he referenced, there are still 71 games remaining in this long season. There is a lot of time for him to turn things around and become the difference-making forward the Predators hoped for when they gave him a $12 million contract almost five months ago.
When asked whether he still feels like he made the right decision to sign in Nashville, Stalberg said, “This is where I want to be. I still think there is a good opportunity for me here. I think we’re going to have a good team. I could have had an option of signing with teams that wouldn’t be as competitive and get an even bigger chance to play, but that’s not what I was looking for. I wanted to be a part of a team that has a chance to win and that’s why I decided to come here.”