Sunday, June 4 2023

Gustafsson playing big role for Capitals: ‘I feel confident’ originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

Erik Gustafsson has spent five of his seven NHL seasons with the Blackhawks, but he’s never played a game at the United Center as an opponent. His season with Calgary got cut short because of the COVID-19 outbreak, and his stints with Montreal and Philadelphia never resulted in a trip to Chicago because of the one-year division realignment.

Gustafsson left the team’s morning skate early on Sunday due to an upper-body injury and did not play against Winnipeg, but he’s hoping his absence won’t keep him out of Tuesday’s matchup against his former team.

“It’s fun to be back here in Chicago,” Gustafsson told NBC Sports Chicago. “It’s my first time back here, and hopefully I can play tomorrow.”

Gustafsson signed a one-year, $800,000 contract with the Washington Capitals over the offseason, and he walked into the locker room at training camp and saw some familiar faces like Henrik Borgstrom, Dylan Strome and Trevor van Riemsdyk, all three of whom are former Blackhawks. There are also quite a few Swedish players too, which has helped his transition.

The chemistry is starting to click for the Capitals, who have won a season-high four straight games and have outscored their opponents 16-6 over that stretch. And they’re doing it without some key pieces such as Nicklas Backstrom, Connor Brown, Carl Hagelin, Darcy Kuemper and Tom Wilson, all of whom combined make up almost 35 percent of the salary cap ceiling.

“We have a tight group and we know we have a good team,” A lot of guys are hurt right now but I think we’re doing well. We’re playing better than the results sometimes but we sometimes just can’t put the puck in the net. But it feels good to have a great team, and there’s going to be a push for the playoffs here.”

Gustafsson was probably viewed by the Capitals as a depth defenseman, but prior to his injury, he had been playing a significant role because of injuries on the back end. He has only 10 points (all assists) in 29 games this season, but he’s averaging exactly 21:00 of ice time since the calendar flipped to November, which ranks No. 2 only to John Carlson (24:41) on the team during that span.

“A couple guys got hurt and I played a lot of minutes the last few games here, so it’s been fun,” Gustafsson said. “I think it’s a good system for me too, kind of similar to when I first came here to Chicago how Joel Quenneville was playing. I feel confident on the ice and in my own zone, so I’m happy to be out there and play a lot of minutes trying to help the team win.”

If Gustafsson plays on Tuesday, he’ll be going up against a Blackhawks team that overhauled its roster and coaching staff over the summer. But it will probably still feel a bit weird.

“It’s going to be fun,” Gustafsson said. “They have a couple new guys but there are a lot of guys I’ve played with for a while too, so it’s going to be fun to be playing in this building.”

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Source: Yahoo Sports


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