Predators see what Stalberg showed in Chicago, not what they envisioned

When they looked at the 22 goals Viktor Stalberg scored for Chicago in 2011-12 the Nashville Predators saw what they thought were possibilities. That total appeared more impressive than it might have because the Blackhawks used him primarily as a checker.

Put him in a more offensive role, the thinking went, and those numbers were bound to increase. So Nashville signed him to a four-year, $12 million contract in July and immediately declared him a left wing on one of their top two lines.

Thirty-three games into this season – and with the Blackhawks set to make their second appearance at Bridgestone Arena (7 p.m., Tuesday, Fox Sports-Tennessee) – Stalberg is on pace to score just 10 goals for the season. Nine Predators forwards have more than his four and eight have more points than his 10.

The decision to sign him certainly looked good, though, when he got the game-winner Saturday against San Jose.

A closer look suggests that goal, which put Nashville up 3-1 early in the third period, was exactly the kind he scored so often for the Blackhawks – and one he has fewer opportunities to deliver for the Predators, which explains the failure thus far to live up to expectations.

Stalberg’s greatest asset is his speed. He used it to take advantage of the aggressive play by Sharks’ defenseman Dan Boyle in the Nashville end. Boyle, pressing to even the score, got caught too far forward and could not recover as Stalberg raced down the wing and capped a two-on-one with a shot that found the back of the net.

“Viktor has this tremendous speed, and when he uses it he can really shoot the puck and people don’t realize he has a great release and a lot of steam on that puck when he shoots it,” coach Barry Trotz said. “It was a real timely shot and goal for us. We need to get a little more of that shot mentality so we can get more of those goals.”

What they actually need are more leads.

In 2011-12, when Stalberg scored his 22 goals, the Blackhawks were one of five Western Conference teams that finished with more than 100 points. As a checker, he was matched against opposing teams’ more offensive lines, which – no doubt – sacrificed defense later in games in an attempt to score.

Half of those goals came when Chicago had a lead, five of them in the third period. Only five came when the Blackhawks were behind.

The goal against San Jose was his second for the Predators that added to a third-period lead. The other two broke ties. He has yet to scored when they trail.

Nashville lacks the offensive firepower Chicago typically has and, therefore, does not play with the lead nearly as often.

That means Stalberg can’t take advantage of his speed – and he’ll likely never live up to the expectations that came with his contract.