Kubalik eager to get off the sideline, back on the ice
Transitioning from an overseas 50-game regular season to one with 82 games in the NHL can take its toll on some players.
Their mindset is different, even in early November.
"Last year after 15 games, we were already thinking if we were going to (be in) the playoffs," said Blackhawks forward Dominik Kubalik, who spent the last six seasons either in the Swiss-A or Czech leagues. "(Then) after Christmas in Europe you already know if you're there or not."
Kubalik is still getting used to the tougher NHL schedule -- as well as the ramped-up pace of play -- and it was for those reasons that coach Jeremy Colliton sat the 24-year-old during Thursday's 5-2 victory over Vancouver.
"It's the best league in the world so you're under stress all the time, and certainly the team not having success, that wears on young players," Colliton said. "We want to take that off him a bit and remind him what a good player he is and what he needs to do to help us. And I think he will."
Said Kubalik: "I knew the last two games (weren't) my best. We talked about it; coach showed me some clips. I've got to learn from it. Now I'm pretty excited to play again."
Kubalik's inconsistent play in the defensive zone during part of the recently completed four-game road trip was concerning. He looked nothing like the player he was in the first 10 games while paired with Brandon Saad and David Kampf on the Hawks' best defensive line.
Colliton broke up the trio and it seemed to affect Kubalik.
"Obviously when you're playing 10 games together, you're building the chemistry and you know what the other guy's going to do," said Kubalik, who has 3 goals and 3 assists. "And we've played together since the (Training Camp) Festival. It's been a long time. When there's a change in the lines, you've got to get used to it again."
Colliton expects to see a better, more motivated Kubalik against the Penguins Saturday.
Said Colliton: "My pitch to him was, 'Hey -- you were one of our best players in the first 10 games. Let's get you back to that as quick as we can because we could use the help.' "
Reunion time: Defenseman Olli Maata, who came to the Hawks in an off-season trade with Pittsburgh for Dominik Kahun, will face his former team for the first time Saturday. Maatta played in 362 games for the Penguins and helped them capture the Stanley Cup in 2016 and '17.
"Yeah, it'll be a little weird," Penguins captain Sidney Crosby told reporters Friday. "When you play with a guy for that long everybody knows each others' tendencies, so there shouldn't be any surprises.
"(He) doesn't give you much room out there; he's got a long stick. I'm sure he'll be tough to play against."
Murphy update: Jeremy Colliton is hopeful that Connor Murphy will be able to come off long-term injured reserve Nov. 16 when the Hawks are at Nashville. The Hawks are 2-2-2 with Murphy in the lineup and 3-5-1 without him.
"We haven't (had) much of him this year," Colliton said. He's a pretty big piece of our team and our D corps. I think our team performance is correlated to when he's in the lineup, so we want to get him in ... for the rest of the year."
Slap shots: Thursday's victory over Vancouver marked the first time the Hawks notched 2 power-play goals since Feb. 22 against Colorado. ... After scoring 1 goal in 52 games from Nov. 27, 2018, through Oct. 26, David Kampf has notched 3 in the last six contests. ... Duncan Keith, who saw 26:11 of ice time vs. Vancouver, has led the Hawks in ice time 13 straight games. ... The Hawks will honor approximately 20 military and veterans awarded with the Purple Heart before the national anthem Sunday at the United Center.
Blackhawks vs. Pittsburgh Penguins, 6 p.m. Saturday at PPG Paints Arena
TV: NBCSCH • Radio: WGN 720-AM
The skinny: Scoring 4 unanswered goals, the Penguins (9-6-1) snapped the Islanders' 10-game winning streak with a 4-3 overtime victory Thursday. "These are definitely character-building wins," Bryan Rust told reporters after scoring 2 goals, including the game-winner. ... Sidney Crosby (5G, 12A) and Jake Guentzel (7G, 6A) are Pittsburgh's leading scorers. Rust has played in just five games, but he has 4 goals. Former Hawks F Dominik Kahun, traded in the off-season for Olli Maatta, has 3 goals and 4 assists. ... D-man Kris Letang is week-to-week after suffering a lower-body injury Monday in Boston. Patric Hornqvist (5G, 5A) was placed on injured reserve Sunday. ... Corey Crawford is 9-1-0 with a .949 save percentage and 1.66 goals-against average vs. Pittsburgh.
Next: Toronto Maple Leafs, 6 p.m. Sunday at United Center
-- John Dietz