Kukla's Korner Hockey
by Shiv on 11/18/10 at 07:06 PM ET
Kris Versteeg’s 2-Goal effort against the Nashville Predators on Tuesday was the first time the Leaf winger has scored more than once in a game this season – not exactly a surprise considering he has only 4 goals on the season thus far. In fact, this was only the 4th moment in his 186-game NHL career that Versteeg has found the back of the net multiple times, and the first since November 19, 2009.
It is safe to say, then, that on Tuesday, Versteeg had one of the better offensive nights of his career in the regular season. His effort was a sigh of relief to Leaf fans, who have been waiting for the former Chicago Blackhawk to provide some much-needed secondary scoring.
Missing in the glory of a comeback victory, however, is the fact that a calamity of factors contributed to how well Versteeg played against the Predators.
The most obvious is the fact that Nashville drew 6 penalties in the 2nd Period, which included three 5-on-3 opportunities for the Leafs. Dion Phaneuf’s injury combined with a struggling Powerplay contributed to the cause too, as Ron Wilson has been experimenting with his units ever since – that is, until he decided to put Versteeg on the left point with Kaberle on that first unit. A further caveat on this point is that Versteeg is a Right-Handed shot, the only shoot-first mentality type forward outside of Phil Kessel (who has a permanent spot reserved by that left face-off circle). Not only that but Versteeg saw 6 minutes and 47 seconds of PPTOI on Tuesday, almost 2 minutes more than Kessel even, who clocked in at 4 minutes and 57 seconds. Versteeg also received a terrific amount of support on each goal: on the first, Bozak gave a terrific screen in front of the net; on the second, MacArthur made a brilliant play down low and then found a perfect passing lane to Versteeg at the opposite point.
None of this, of course, is to take anything away from Versteeg – he was the 1st Star for a reason.
But 17 games into the season, Versteeg sits 6th in scoring among the Leafs with 4 goals and 9 points. The brutal part about that stat? Viktor Stalberg has 6 goals and 10 points. The issue, however, is not with how well Stalberg is doing; it is with how much better than this Versteeg was expected to be doing. When the Leafs brought him in, it was with the expectation that given the right amount of ice time, he could return to his form from the 2008-2009 season. He has since been demoted and shuffled between the 1st and 2nd lines as the Leafs have struggled to find answers in a string of 13 games where they have managed to win only 2 after a 4-0-0 start to the season.
Consistency is the issue here and the Leafs need more of it from Versteeg to have any hope of making the playoffs. He has found it recently, tallying 3 goals and 4 assists in 7 November games. But can Versteeg keep playing like this?
Playing well against the Devils tonight would be a start.
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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.
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