Speed thrills for Rangers as Stalberg fills Hagelin void

By on January 24, 2016

NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

Updated: Saturday, January 23, 2016, 11:39 PM

Viktor Stalberg is skating with the speed and confidence that brings back memories of Carl Hagelin.Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

RALEIGH — The Rangers couldn’t afford to re-sign Carl Hagelin. They didn’t want to trade him to Anaheim on June 27, but they had to. So they have spent the past seven months trying to replace all the Swiss-Army knife Swede did for them, like signing Daniel Paille on Thursday to fill out a less formidable penalty kill rotation.

Hagelin’s speed, though, was his greatest asset. When Hagelin climbed over the boards and dug his feet furiously into the ice seconds after Chris Kreider had ended a shift of harassing defensemen, their continuity pushed the Rangers to the high-octane pace Alain Vigneault prefers and other teams hated to face.

So that is why Rangers GM Jeff Gorton signed Viktor Stalberg to a one-year, $ 1.1 million contract on July 1. He was hoping to replace Hagelin’s speed at a bargain price, and Tuesday night in Raleigh, when Stalberg skated like he was shot out of a cannon, it was easy to follow Gorton’s train of thought.

“I skate with (Stalberg) every summer and I knew. I knew he’s close to Hagelin, Hagelin’s speed,” fellow Swede Henrik Lundqvist told the Daily News after Friday’s 4-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes. “Right now he’s using his speed and quickness and playing really well. I just hope the puck starts going in for him because he deserves it. He brings a lot of energy to the group the way he plays, just like Hags did, with his speed, and he brings up the tempo of the game.”

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Stalberg, 30, though, has slumped through plenty of other performances that demonstrated why the Nashville Predators had him in the AHL for 20 games last season. His uninterested outing in Winnipeg on Dec. 18 was the type of game that could get a player cut before he even gets back on the plane.

“Sometimes you lose some confidence,” Stalberg told The News Tuesday at PNC Arena. “And with the team playing like we were as a group in December, I think you sometimes go as the team goes. But you’ve got to find a way to be better in stretches like that.”

This was consistent with his M.O. while playing for the Chicago Blackhawks, with whom he won a Stanley Cup in 2013. Stalberg could be the most skilled, dominant player on the ice one night and then disappear the next. That’s another Hagelin quality the Rangers have sought to replace: reliability.

Vigneault promptly scratched Stalberg for two games after Winnipeg, but since Stalberg reentered the lineup he has churned his legs and backed off defensemen suddenly becoming a forceful weapon. The coach even said after beating the Hurricanes of Stalberg that “this is the best I’ve seen him skate in a long time.”

“I feel like I’m playing well right now and I feel like the whole year I’ve been playing well for the most part,” Stalberg said. “Now the last couple games there have been tons of chances not only for me but for my linemates, too. Hopefully we’ll get rewarded eventually. It could have been three or four goals tonight.”

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Stalberg’s biggest surge the past two games has coincided — not coincidentally — with playing alongside fellow Swede and rookie Oscar Lindberg.

Stalberg played left wing with Lindberg at center against Vancouver on Tuesday. Then Friday Stalberg moved to the right side of center Kevin Hayes with Lindberg on the left flank.

In both games Stalberg and Lindberg had great chemistry, collecting 17 combined shots on goal, and while Hurricanes goalie Eddie Lack robbed Stalberg from getting any goals, they teamed with Hayes to form the Rangers’ best line in a 4-1 win.

“If you look back the whole year I think when we’ve played together it seems like we’re creating a lot, reading off each other, playing a simple game,” Stalberg said of Lindberg. “Sometimes it’s nice when you’re comfortable with guys, and being a Swede he might feel more confident playing with me than some other guys sometimes. I don’t know if it’s something particular but you just feel more comfortable sometimes with someone you talk to more around the rink and hang out with a little bit more.”

GAME ON: The NHL postponed Saturday’s Flyers-Islanders game in Brooklyn and postponed a Capitals game for the second time in three days by pushing back Sunday’s Caps-Penguins game in Washington, D.C.

The Rangers and Senators, however, are still on for a 3 p.m. faceoff on Sunday. The Rangers took off out of Raleigh mid-afternoon Saturday. They are seeking their third straight win. 

Tags:
new york rangers ,
nhl ,
carl hagelin ,
viktor stalberg
henrik

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