OTTAWA – A few minutes after the Pittsburgh Penguins left the ice at their pre-game skate Monday a PR man for the team announced that Sidney Crosby would have his daily news conference down the hall.
A reporter, in jest, asked Jordan Staal what time his news conference would be held. “I’ve never had my own news conference, I’m not that good,” Staal responded with a laugh.
Truth be told, the six-foot-four, 220-pound Staal is very good, and he’d be front and centre on most NHL teams. But on the Penguins, he’s a No. 3 centre behind the super-talented duo of Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
“He does a lot of great things for us,” Crosby said of Staal. “He’s offensively gifted but I think sometimes his defensive play gets overlooked. He’s a big, strong guy who is hard to play against. On other teams he’d probably get a lot of attention.”
It may be that Staal has garnered even less attention this season because his offensive numbers fell in his second NHL season. After putting up 29 goals in 81 games as an 18-year-old last season, the native of Thunder Bay, Ont., dropped to 12 goals. He did score in Monday’s 4-1 playoff win over Ottawa, helping to give the Penguins a commanding 3-0 lead in the first-round series.
Staal said he says he didn’t let the dropoff affect him as he focused on other aspects of his game.
“I was just trying to help the team and we were winning so it wasn’t a real big deal for any of us,” said Staal. “I was just trying to focus on my defensive game and hopefully the offence would come.”
Playing on the third line with Tyler Kennedy and Jarkko Ruutu, Staal’s role is more of a checker – prevent the other team from scoring and perhaps get the odd goal. He also remains an important penalty killer and gets time on the second power-play unit. He’s worked at improving his faceoff skills and it showed in the opening two games of this series against the Ottawa Senators when he won 19 of 31 faceoffs for a 61 per cent ratio.
“I’m just trying to fill my role on this team,” said Staal. “Obviously we’ve got a lot of talent. I’m just trying to play well defensively and just try to get as many scoring chances as possible.”
He’s very young, has lots of upside, and soon will likely be the kind of impact offensive player that gets ice time on the top two lines.
“I hope so,” said Staal. ‘I think I can do it. Right now, we have a lot of great players on this team, everyone is fighting for ice time. I’m only 19 years old, I’m going to keep working on my game and try to get better and hopefully I can be a top guy.”
In the meantime, he’s enjoying the ride in his second NHL playoffs. And he’s doing a little scoreboard watching, too. Brother Marc Staal and the New York Rangers have a 2-1 series lead against the New Jersey Devils. A Rangers-Penguins matchup in the second round isn’t out of the question.
“Right now the way things are going it could be that way,” said Jordan. “Obviously that would be pretty exciting for both of us. We both have great teams and it would be an exciting series if we make it that far. Hopefully we can.”
The two brothers faced each other in the Ontario Hockey League playoffs so it wouldn’t be the first time they played each other with so much on the line.
“He ended up smoking me at centre ice during a playoff series in junior,” laughed Jordan. “It’s just the way it goes. You don’t really notice it’s your brother. You just go out there and play and once you’re out there it’s really no different.”
He had hoped brother Eric would also get in but the Carolina Hurricanes were knocked out on the last Saturday of the regular season after Washington edged them for the Southeast Division title.
“That was a rough one for him,” said Jordan. “It’s a tough way to go out and obviously he wasn’t too happy with it. He’s still rooting for Mark and I though.”
So are Henry and Linda Staal, the proud parents. But for now, the parents aren’t on the road with either son.
“Right now they’re just taking a rest, staying in Thunder Bay for now,” said Jordan. “I guess they’re hoping both of us make it through the first round and then I don’t know what their plans are from there.”