Blackhawks breakdown: Viktor Stalberg

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Blackhawks breakdown: Viktor Stalberg

CSNChicago.com Blackhawks Insider Tracey Myers and PGL host Chris Boden will evaluate the 2011-12 performance of each player on the Hawks roster. One breakdown will occur every weekday in numerical order.

Viktor Stalberg enjoyed the best season of his short career. He played in 79 games, averaging just under 15 minutes of ice time per game. He scored a career-high 22 goals with a career-best 21 assists for 43 points -- none in very limited time on the power play -- and finished plus-6 with 91 hits. Stalberg struggled mightily in the playoffs, however, behind held without a goal and just two assists in six games vs. Phoenix. He finished even in the series, but was also penalized four times for eight minutes in Game 5 alone.

Boden's take: The 26-year-old made the kind of statistical jump you'd hope to see in his second full NHL season, for a guy with his skillset: a 10-goal improvement, to go along with a 19-point improvement. He did all that with zero power-play production due to getting very little playing time on that unit.

He has world class speed and uses the open ice to make himself dangerous to opponents. The hands are still a work in progress. They've improved, but since that open-ice skill isn't necessary on the power play, Joel Quenneville probably wants him to take another step there. How many times over the past two seasons have we seen Stalberg race in on a breakaway, but unable to finish? Stalberg even volunteered after the season to be the "net-front presence" the team so sorely needs on the power play. At 6-3, he has the size, but are the hands there? And would the subsequent banging affect the rest of his game?

Myers' take: The Swedish forward set career-high numbers in goals, assists and points. What's more, all of that came at even strength, as the Blackhawks, for some reason, just didn't try Stalberg on the power play that much. His biggest attribute, his speed, served him well; and the Blackhawks kept him among the top lines through most of the season. But it's also what Stalberg learned that made him more valuable this season. A few stints with the checking line helped Stalberg get better at puck possession; although when he had a gaffe there, it was noticeable and, too often, turned into an opposition scoring chance. Still, there is a tremendous upswing with Stalberg as he goes forward.

2012-13 Expectations

Boden: It'll be interesting to see if he reports to camp with a little more "dangle" to his game. He's been gifted with a gear that very few NHL players possess. Now it's about the next step to polish his game offensively, plus he must continue to increase his commitment and awareness on the defensive end. He's one of the players who needs to utilize starts and stops more than fly-bys. I wouldn't use him in front of the goalie on the power play. If he takes another step up in his game, he'll get a payday, as he'll be an unrestricted free agent one year from now.

Finally, is Stalberg a "Top Six" forward to join Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp? If Dave Bolland, Andrew Shaw and Bryan Bickell remain a trio, who goes Top-6 and who is fourth line? Daniel Carcillo, Jimmy Hayes, Brandon Saad or Michael Frolik? There's a matter of size, protection and skill to consider in those top two lines, as well. That's if we see many, or all, of the same faces come back.

Myers: OK, just about every other player -- or so it seemed -- got a shot at the power play last season. And Stalberg should be given one this coming season. As the offseason began Stalberg said he'd be willing to do whatever it took to get some special-teams time. He's a big body and could be that net presence the Blackhawks desperately want and need. Otherwise, if Stalberg keeps progressing off last year's numbers, he'll be a steady top-six player for the Blackhawks.

How do you feel about this evaluation? As always, be sure to chime in with your thoughts by commenting below and check out the video breakdown of Stalberg's season above.

Up next: Johnny Oduya

Wonky streaks, good fortune over Cavs on the line for Bulls

Wonky streaks, good fortune over Cavs on the line for Bulls

No matter the metric or the occasion, the only thing definitive about the Bulls over the last two seasons has been their mystifying dominance over the Cleveland Cavaliers in head-to-head matchups.

That, and their fascinating streak of consecutive wins while playing at home on TNT, a streak that could end at 19 games Thursday night when the two teams with varying objectives clash at the United Center.

The Cavaliers are searching to find themselves, along with a light switch that will perhaps alert them to a lost defense over the past several weeks that has been worst in the league since the All-Star break.

The Bulls are searching for consistency, but since it’s probably a little too late in the season for that, they’ll settle for a playoff spot with eight games left.

They’ll take two straight wins for the first time in a month, if they can get it.

They’ll extend a goofy streak, if that’s what things will come down to.

“The big thing is obviously you have to execute very well against this Cleveland team,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “You have to go out there with great urgency, great energy. I anticipate them coming in and playing with a ton of energy tomorrow. We’re going to have to match that. We’re going to have to come out and play physical basketball.”

Having a big break between games this late in the season is a rarity, as the Bulls have been off since Sunday evening, but it’s just another weird detail in this weird Bulls experience.

An experience that the mild-mannered Hoiberg has to experience from his couch some nights, such as watching the Miami Heat furiously steal a game in Detroit at the buzzer with a Hasaan Whiteside tip-in to extend a lead over his team to a game, followed by another win Wednesday to put more distance between the two teams.

“I did, actually,” said Hoiberg with a smirk when asked if he’s scoreboard watching and paying attention to the teams ahead of the Bulls in the playoff race.

After being prompted to give his raw emotions when Whiteside’s tip-in occurred, he slipped right back to Robo-Hoiberg—although one can imagine how animated he must’ve been while looking to catch a break from a previous contender for the eighth spot in the Pistons.

“It is what it is,” Hoiberg said. “You have to go out and worry about yourselves at this time of year. It was a great finish for Miami, obviously, the way that game ended. But there’s nothing you can do about that. You’ve got to worry about yourselves and hopefully go out and execute.”

Going 6-1 against the Cavaliers in his two seasons as Bulls coach is probably the biggest feather in his cap, including three wins in all three meetings this go round.

The rhyme or reason doesn’t seem explainable, but Nikola Mirotic seemed to give a few keys to the Bulls’ success over LeBron James’ Cavaliers: Sharing the ball, controlling the glass and getting back on defense.

“Against big teams, we play much better,” Mirotic said. “I don’t know why is the reason for that. We need to find a way to play against everybody like that. It’s on us. We just have to prove it.”

Usually, those tenets seem to work against most teams, not just the supremely talented champions who’ve just lost a grip on first place in the conference.

But their inconsistencies have left the Bulls here with a handful of games left before the April 12th finale.

A win over Cleveland could mean everything, or nothing at all, or something in between.

“Sure, we understand,” Mirotic said. “We’ve been in a very similar situation last year. We didn’t make the playoffs so this year we want to try to make that push. I think we have a good schedule for the last. Very important game tomorrow, huge one. I think we have played very well against Cleveland until now. We have a chance. We need to get out there and play with energy.” 

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