NEW YORK — Erik Gustafsson has an unusual problem for a rookie under Joel Quenneville — he’s worrying too much about playing good defense.
“I think that’s a little bit of the problem I have,” Gustafsson said after Wednesday’s morning skate at Madison Square Garden. “That’s the biggest issue. I have to go back to the game I played when I was just called up, and do more offensive plays and join the rush more. I need to skate and be creative offensively, and not just think only about defense.”
Gustafsson returns to the lineup tonight against the Rangers after being a healthy scratch in each of the last two games. Quenneville wants to see the dynamic attacker he saw earlier in the season, not the timid, play-it-safe guy he’s seen lately.
“We thought he made a real big impact right off the bat offensively,” Quenneville said. “Defensively, he was fine. Both parts of his game were just ordinary [recently]. We feel he can do both things adequately. One shouldn’t affect the other. When it’s time to play with the puck, play with it. Play to your strengths and do what you have to do, team-wise.”
Gustafsson did pick up an assist on Artemi Panarin’s goal, but he had a rough night in his own end, screening his goalie on a Rangers goal that was disallowed, and getting shoved off the puck by Viktor Stalberg on another goal that stood.
Both Gustafsson and the man he replaces in the lineup, fellow rookie Viktor Svedberg, got a vote of confidence with the demotion of veteran Rob Scuderi, who cleared waivers on Wednesday and will report to Rockford. The move was partly done to bury some of Scuderi’s salary-cap hit, but Quenneville said Svedberg’s strong play had a lot to do with it, too.
But Svedberg, who’ll be a scratch tonight, isn’t taking a playoff roster spot for granted.
“That’s not really up to me to worry about or even think about,” Svedberg said. “I just want to work as hard as I can to stay up here, and whatever moves they make it’s not up to me.”
With the Feb. 29 trade deadline looming, Scuderi’s demotion gives general manager Stan Bowman a little more flexibility. With Gustafsson struggling, a No. 4 defenseman could be high on Bowman’s list. But Quenneville on Wednesday said he was content with his blue line, and instead would like to see the Hawks add a forward or two. The Hawks have needed a top-line left wing all season and with Marian Hossa out for a couple of weeks with a lower-body injury, the need is even more glaring. Winnipeg’s Andrew Ladd is a likely target, and Arizona’s Mikkel Boedker, Carolina’s Kris Versteeg, or Toronto’s P.A. Parenteau are among the many options that Bowman could go after.
“As a team, if there are some areas where we could help our team, we’d be definitely looking at,” Quenneville said. “If there’s some players coming in, I”m not opposed to that one bit. … I think up front we could use a player or two.”