Kris Versteeg could have sulked, could have found a seat Saturday on the press level of PNC Arena and silently stewed through the Carolina Hurricanes’ game.
Versteeg won a Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks last season. Here he was, being made a healthy scratch for Saturday’s game against the Montreal Canadiens as the Canes looked to snap a three-game losing streak that dropped them to last in the NHL.
But Versteeg is a veteran, a professional. While not happy about being a scratch for the first time this season, he handled it just as Canes coach Bill Peters hoped he would, bringing added energy, jump and point production to his next game.
Versteeg didn’t have to wait long, either. The day after the 3-2 win over the Canadiens, the Canes were back at it at PNC Arena and Versteeg back on the ice, playing on the top line, engaged, contributing, finishing with a goal and assist in the 5-4 win over the Arizona Coyotes.
“Everyone has pride but you have to suck it up, I guess, and deal with what you’re given,” Versteeg said Monday. “There’s a reason you’re not in the lineup, so you’ve just got to be ready for whenever you get to go again and try to make an impact any way you can.
“I don’t take it personally, at all. If I did I’m sure I’d be out of the game a long time ago.”
In a sense you have to get (mad) and be ready to play, but you have to harness your energy in the right direction.
Canes’ Kris Versteeg on being a healthy scratch Saturday
The Canes were awful Thursday in a 5-1 loss to the New Jersey Devils at home. That led to the call up Friday of forwards Phil Di Giuseppe and Brock McGinn, and defenseman Jaccob Slavin from the Charlotte Checkers of the AHL as Carolina general manager Ron Francis and Peters looked to shake up the lineup while making a poignant point to the team.
“I think everyone was expecting something,” Versteeg said. “It wasn’t a great effort at all for the full 60 minutes. It was the kind of game where everybody expected something to happen, and soon after.”
Defenseman Ryan Murphy was reassigned to Charlotte and Slavin penciled in as his replacement in the lineup. That was no surprise. The guessing game was what would happen at forward, and Peters decided to sit Versteeg and Riley Nash for the Montreal game to play the two rookies – Di Giuseppe making his NHL debut.
If Versteeg had any pent-up frustration, he ridded himself of it by working out in the Canes’ locker room the first two periods.
“I did weights and bikes and then sat down for the third period and watched it,” Versteeg said. “In a sense you have to get (mad) and be ready to play, but you have to harness your energy in the right direction.”
Peters not only had Versteeg back in the lineup Sunday but placed on a line with center Eric Staal and winger Elias Lindholm. Versteeg scored two minutes, 18 seconds into the game – his first goal in 14 games – to tie the score 1-1, and later assisted on Staal’s goal in the second period.
Versteeg first forced a turnover by the Coyotes’ Oliver Ekman-Larsson in the Arizona zone. Lindholm jumped on the loose puck, then found Staal open in the slot for the score and a 3-2 lead.
“I thought he was good,” Peters said of Versteeg. “I thought that line was good. ‘Lindy’ has found his game and is competing and skating much harder than he did earlier in the year and looks quicker than he did. Eric was a factor … and ‘Steeger’ got us on the board right after they scored. It was a good response by the team and by that line.”
Versteeg, 29, has two Stanley Cup rings, winning with the Blackhawks both in 2010 and last season. Traded with forward Joakim Nordstrom to Carolina on Sept. 11, Versteeg had two goals and eight assists in the Canes’ first 12 games, but only four assists in the next 13 games before the scratch.
Versteeg will be playing his 500th career game Tuesday when the Canes (10-13-4) begin a four-game road trip against the Dallas Stars. After two comeback victories, the Canes will go into the game with a more positive vibe.
“It was exciting, both games,” Versteeg said. “When you do that it can build momentum and now we’ve got to keep that feeling going, because nothing changes the feeling of a room like winning games.”